Edit up: New dust regulation a good step toward protecting miners
A new rule aimed at reducing the incidence of black lung disease among miners doesn't have all that some advocates had hoped for, and it took far too long to complete. But the federal government last week finally overcame inertia and finalized the new regulation, which is a step in the right direction toward reducing the number of miners afflicted by the deadly disease caused by exposure to coal dust.
The rule lowers the level of dust allowed in mines from 2.0 to 1.5 milligrams per cubic meter of air. For certain mine entries and miners diagnosed with black lung disease, the standard is cut in half, from 1.0 to 0.5. The regulation also increases the frequency of dust sampling, and requires coal operators to take immediate action when dust levels are high. Coal-mine operators also will be required to employ new technology to provide real-time dust levels.
When the previous standard was imposed in 1969, the number of reported cases dropped significantly. But black lung cases rose sharply in the past dozen years or so, and more than 76,000 miners have died in the last five decades at least partly due to black lung, federal officials say.
The rule announced last week was first proposed in 2010 with a tougher standard than what was finally approved, and its progress was painfully slow. The Mine Safety and Health Administration held seven public hearings and extended the comment period three times; the U.S. House even tried to block money for implementing the rule.
For the new rule to be effective, strict enforcement is a must. The new standard will be of no value if coal operators don't adhere to it and if inspection agencies aren't making sure they do. If industry compliance and tough government oversight take place, the lower exposure to dust should help reduce the number of black lung deaths. Continued monitoring of the disease also is a must to see if further steps are needed in the future.
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