Government, Latest News

Senators push MSHA for new silica standards for U.S. miners

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Bob Casey (D-PA), Mark Warner (D-VA) and Tim Kaine (D-VA) pushed Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) Assistant Secretary, Chris Williamson, for answers on the delayed announcement of a new silica standard for miners across America, especially Appalachia.

The senators said in part, “In September 2021, the Department of Labor (DOL) provided that a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking was expected to be released in January 2022. It has been over a year since that correspondence and still no new proposed silica standard has been promulgated that would further protect our brave miners … Excessive exposure to silica has been linked to several debilitating and incurable diseases such as black lung, silicosis and the most advanced and deadly form of black lung, progressive massive fibrosis (PMF), all of which are entirely preventable … For generations, our brave coal miners have risked their lives and health to power our nation to greatness. We have an obligation as a country to protect their health and welfare with commonsense rules and regulations, and we look forward to working with you to do just that.”

The November 2020 U.S. Department of Labor Office of Inspector General (OIG) report provided MSHA with additional recommendations to better protect coal miners from exposure to respirable silica. The number one recommendation was to lower the legal exposure limit. The report went on to outline that more than three times as many coal miners were identified as having black lung disease from 2010-14 compared to 1995-99 and evidence indicates that respirable silica exposure may be responsible. This increase in the diagnoses of black lung disease over time is expected to worsen without action. Data from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) indicates that the prevalence of black lung disease in the Appalachian coal fields is worse than previously thought and impacting more young coal miners than ever before.

“Black Lung has been one of the most savage occupational diseases in our nation’s history, killing more than one hundred thousand coal miners in the last century. The incidence of black lung disease had been declining until a decade ago, when we began seeing a significant rise in black lung cases, especially among younger miners, largely caused by increased silica dust in the mine atmosphere. There is no silica standard in the mining industry and we desperately need one. It truly is a matter of life and death. We understand MSHA is working on new silica guidelines, but every day there is a delay lives are being put at greater risk. We need action and we need it now,” said United Mine Workers of America President Cecil Roberts.

The senators also asked for “a timely and detailed response to the following questions:

“1. What is the current status of a new silica standard and what, if any, progress has been made on it over the past year?

“2. What, if any, barriers exist to releasing a timely proposal?

“3. What is your current anticipated timeline for the promulgation of a new silica standard?”