For decades, coal miners have been exposed to dangerous and potentially deadly substance known as crystalline silica. The mineral can be found in sand, stone, concrete, and mortar. The respirable version contains 100 times smaller particles that can become airborne during cutting, sawing, drilling, and crushing stone and rock.
For many coal miners who have inhaled the dust over their lengthy careers, a lack of protection and engineering controls has resulted in pneumoconiosis, better known as black lung, a severe affliction that, to date, lacks a cure. Other forms of the deadly disease include various forms of cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary and kidney diseases. The most severe form is serious progressive massive fibrosis.
Efforts to reduce dust exposure
With the objective of improving protections from health hazards caused by exposure, the U.S. Department of Labor and their Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) announced new enforcements to minimize exposure to toxic levels of silica dust that continue to impact thousands of miners annually.
An essential component of the program involves spot inspections of mines for silica dust and expansion of samplings onsite. The objective is to assist with compliance and best practices to minimize exposure and continually evaluate conditions. Efforts will focus on coal and nonmetal mines with a history of overexposure.
Mines that have received previous citations for exceeding permissible exposure limits of 100 micrograms will be prioritized. Miners will be encouraged to report health conditions that they consider hazardous. They will also be encouraged to report any tampering efforts that could affect the sampling process.