The upcoming Biden administration could rule new safety measures for coal mines against silica dust that has harmed thousands of workers after five decades of inaction, in both Republican and Democrat parties.
A recent report by the U.S. Department of Labor called the Mine Safety and Health Administration’s (MSHA) standard as “out of date”; and urged it to reframe it under a new safety ruling.
Coal industry protagonists consider that Biden administration has big potential of indeed changing the 50-year-old standard; as its staff members have already the expertise to write regulations and finally address the problem.
Labor Inspector General’s report reads: “MSHA has not sufficiently protected coal miners from exposure to respirable crystalline silica.”
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Silica regulation in coal mines should be the priority for new administration
And it adds: “A significant body of evidence shows that lowering the silica limit would be a major factor in preventing coal workers’ deaths; and illnesses caused by its exposure. Even though MSHA has known its limit did not align with current scientific recommended limits, it continued to maintain essentially the same one established in the 1960s.”
Silica dust gets into the air when miners break sandstone as they extract coal. When inhaled, silica particles can storage in the lungs for life, causing severe black lung disease. The report finds that: “large clusters of miners with less than 20 years of mining tenure in Kentucky, West Virginia, and Virginia developed progressive massive fibrosis (PMF), the most severe form of black lung disease.”
The principal cause being silica dust high concentrations in the mines.
According to Celeste Monforton, former federal mine safety regulator during the Clinton administration, quoted by NPR, the IG report “opens the door for the new administration to take really strong action.”
“Ultimately, what you want is a regulation that really limits the amount of silica dust that is allowed to be in the air where miners are,” she says.
And explained that the only thing needed to completely regulate silica at coal mines is “political will”. In this regard, an integral regulatory approach to the matter, one that cover mining practices would be a more viable solution.
“This has to be priority one in the new administration,” she concludes.