A coal miner’s last line of defense while working in potentially dangerous conditions is a dust mask. The protective devices are manufactured to provide protection against breathing in dust particles that could lead to black lung disease.
Workers at more than 100 coal mines claim that substandard masks resulted in diagnoses of career-ending and potentially life-threatening illnesses. While 3M manufactured most, other mask makers involved in the legal action include Mine Safety Appliances, American Optical Corp., and Cabot.
A dangerous lack of quality
With comparisons to “snake-oil salesmen,” attorneys claim that the reduced quality of dust masks not only resulted in life-changing illnesses but also a significant burden on Medicaid/Medicare programs that put taxpayers left paying the bill. Not to mention the smaller coal companies paying significantly more in workers’ compensation programs.
3M dominates paper masks and filters, generating nearly half a billion dollars in annual profits going back to 1983. The lawsuit accuses the company of non-compliance with standards established by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Critics cite 3M’s past lobbying efforts in the early eighties to remove the most minimal of standards, resulting in a history of non-compliance and zero accountability.
3M disputes those assertions over the dust masks and considers them an “optional piece of equipment” that reduces exposure to all forms of particles, specifically those that result in black lung disease. The company cites independent research to back up their assertions and no link between the deadly illness and their respirators.
While attorneys take their respective sides and poise themselves for legal battles, hard-working coal-miners are left suffering the effects of black lung disease, as are their family members dealing with financial and highly personal losses.