U.S. MIne Safety Chief Vows to End Black Lung Disease

December 14, 2009

The nation’s mine safety czar said Friday that the U.S. must put a stop to black lung disease, a work-related illness that has killed roughly 10,000 coal miners this decade.

“Now is the time to act to end this disease,” U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration Director Joseph Main told about 150 miners and mine industry representatives in a Frankfort, Kentucky hotel Friday. “It is not curable, but it is preventable.”

Main is touring coal states to promote a federal initiative to stamp out black lung disease among miners. The ailment, caused by breathing coal dust, gets its name from the discoloration it causes in the lungs.

The federal plan, unveiled last week, would better educate miners about prevention, strictly enforce existing laws and develop new regulations to protect miners from the disease. Main also wants to require miners to wear a continuous dust monitor to measure their intake of coal particles and ensure that mine operators are obeying federal regulations limiting coal dust.

The federal government, though voluntary screenings, discovered about 10 years ago that black lung cases were on the rise, especially in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia.

Carl Shoupe, a former miner who was severely injured in a rock fall in 1970, said he’s pleased the mine safety agency is taking black lung more seriously.

“I’ve seen my father die with it,” said Shoupe, a resident of coal-rich Harlan County. “I’ve seen my grandfather die with it. My brother-in-laws are dealing with it now. It’s raging out there.”

The National Mining Association, the United Mine Workers of America and the Bituminous Coal Operations Association support the goal of ending black lung.

Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis said in a statement that she also is committed to the initiative.

“We will use all the tools necessary to control dust in coal mines and reduce the risk of disease to our nation’s miners,” she said.

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