The United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) union, which represents thousands of coal miners nationwide, said July 17 that House Republican efforts to cut funding for coal dust prevention programs is a step in the wrong direction.
UMWA International President Cecil Roberts said: “The language proposed by Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives that will eliminate funding for future efforts to reduce miners’ exposure to coal dust, including the development of critical new technology that will provide real-time monitoring of dust exposure, amounts to nothing more than a potential death sentence for thousands of American miners. It’s difficult to understand the motivation behind this effort. Recent studies by the federal government under Democratic and Republican administrations have clearly demonstrated that black lung is on the rise, which can only happen when there is too much respirable coal dust in mine atmospheres. We know that the only way to end this disease is to reduce miners’ exposure to that dust.”
Roberts also pointed out that respirable coal dust is highly explosive. “Indeed, allowing this dust to build up is exactly one of the causes of the massive explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine,” said Roberts, referring to an April 2010 blast at a Massey Energy mine in southern West Virginia that killed 29 miners and has prompted an industry-wide safety crackdown by the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration.
“The Mine Safety and Health Administration, in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control, the UMWA and the coal industry, have been working for years to develop a Personal Dust Monitor (PDM), which will allow for real-time monitoring of miners’ exposure to dust, so that we can better limit that exposure,” said Roberts. “PDMs are being tested right now in underground mines, and are close to deployment. But if this language is allowed to stand, we will not have the benefit of this new technology, meaning miners will continue to be at risk of this always-fatal disease. Recent in-depth reporting by several news outlets has made it clear that miners at every age, in coalfields across the country, are contracting black lung at increasing rates.”