Press Release

Statement on MSHA enforcement initiative aimed at reducing miners’ overexposure to respirable silica

Initiative is welcome, but more needs to be done to protect miners from high levels of silica

CONTACT:

Dan Radmacher, (540) 798-6683), dan@appvoices.org

Yesterday, the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) announced a new enforcement initiative to better protect miners from exposure to dangerous levels of respirable silica dust on the job while the agency continues working on a new rule limiting this exposure. Appalachian Voices is supportive of the measures outlined in the initiative, and we call on the agency to do more by tightening regulations that protect miners from breathing in harmful silica dust, a primary cause of black lung disease.

In recent years, black lung has reached epidemic levels in Central Appalachia. Experts agree that this is due in large part to elevated levels of respirable silica in the mines, as compared to mines in previous decades. These elevated levels are seen because remaining coal seams are less accessible after more than a century of mining, meaning miners have to cut through more silica-containing rock to retrieve the coal.

The announcement was made by the Department of Labor’s Assistant Secretary for Mine Safety and Health Chris Williamson. The grandson of West Virginia coal miners, Williamson has been at the helm of MSHA for only two months. The announcement signals a welcome change from the approach of former agency head David Zatezalo, who in 2019 emphasized the use of personal respirators by miners over robust regulatory enforcement.

Statement by Willie Dodson, Central Appalachian Field Coordinator for Appalachian Voices:

“I’m relieved, grateful and encouraged that Secretary Williamson intends to exercise MSHA’s regulatory authority in ways his predecessor did not, but it is urgent that more be done to protect miners from the risk of contracting black lung disease. This initiative does not include any new or improved regulations, only actions that MSHA already has the authority to carry out.

“In order to effectively address the epidemic of black lung that is tearing through mining communities, MSHA must issue a rule-making lowering the permissible exposure limit for respirable silica in mines from 100 to 50 micrograms per cubic meter. For workers in any other industry, the legal limit for respirable silica exposure is 50 micrograms per cubic meter. It’s twice that for miners. It shouldn’t be so complicated, or take so long, for MSHA to afford miners the same level of protection enjoyed by workers in every other industry.”

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Appalachian Voices is a leading nonprofit advocate for a healthy environment and just economy in the Appalachian region, and a driving force in America’s shift from fossil fuels to a clean energy future.

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