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Calls for Change Follows NPR / Frontline Black Lung Investigation: NPR



Coal miner Nick Styler examines a lung X-ray showing black lung disease at the Stone Mountain clinic in Grundi, Virginia.

With courtesy of Elaine McMillan Sheldon / PBS Frontline


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With the courtesy of Elaine McMillan Sheldon / PBS Frontline

Coal Miner Nick Styler examines an X-ray of his lungs showing black lung disease at the Stone Mountain Clinic in Grundy, Virginia.

Thousands of miners die of an advanced form of black lung disease, and federal regulators could prevent it if they paid more attention to their own data.

This is the conclusion of NPR and

  NPR and Frontline

The regulatory system, which has to protect miners from exposure to toxic silicon dust, has failed to prevent dangerous exposures more than 21,000 times since 1986, according to Data collected by the MSHA and analyzed by NPR / Frontline .

While the National Institute for Safety and Health at Work (NIOSH) has counted 115 cases of advanced black lung across the country through its 2010-2018 monitoring program, NPR and Frontline identified more of 2300 cases by contacting health clinics in Appalachia

Federal Ordinance For silicon dioxide dust in coal mines has not changed for decades even when the yield has changed. But after the report NPR / Frontline some of them called for a new answer.

Invitation to be heard in Congress

Rep. Bobby Scott, chairman of the US Department of Education and Labor, says he will schedule hearings in Congress on the outbreak of advanced black lung disease and regulatory failures quoted by the NPR / Frontline investigation. "Congress has no choice but to step in and direct MSHA and the mining industry to take timely action," Scott said in a statement. The documentary, reported with the NPR, documented the epidemic of advanced liver disease in Apalachi and the multiple failure of federal regulators to prevent the outbreak.


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Compulsory tests for working miners The epidemic has some calls for compulsory testing of working coal miners so that signs of the liver can be detected early. are miners who file requests for government black lungs.

"There are people who literally work in the mines at the moment, hundreds of them … who have complex black lungs that have no idea."

NIOSH is usually legally restricted to testing only miners that work, and the program is voluntary. On a national scale, only a third of the working miners are being tested. Kentucky is only 17%.

Mandatory tests have long been opposed to miners' advocates, as they, in their view, should not be compelled to undergo a medical procedure against their will. Miners also told NPR that they are afraid of losing their jobs if coal companies learn positive signs of the disease.

The epidemic has mitigated the resistance to some extent. The Union of United Workers in the past supports the mandatory testing until the results remain confidential.

"We need to know what is happening to miners during their working lives," says Bruce Wattsman, who has been the National Mining Association for more than three decades.

The disease can happen, but we are not aware of it. so? Wolff believes the federal agencies that must protect and help miners do not cope quickly enough. He advocates declaring a public health emergency and mobilizing teams of X-ray technicians to transfer coal mines to portable X-rays of the lungs. "I mean, nobody even tells people there is a fire."

"If you had 400 cases on E. coli … they would flood the area with their technicians, doctors and nurses to check people's health." Wolfe adds.

NIOSH has no authority to declare an emergency in the field of public health, says David Weisman, who heads the agency that investigates liver disease and explores miners. Only the Secretary of Health and Humanitarian Affairs can issue this statement.

Weissman notes that sick miners can take care of federally funded liver clinics, through Medicare, or with state or federal lung support programs. "Because NIOSH is not a healthcare provider for miners," Weisman adds, "we can not comment on potential health gaps," which could be resolved by flooding funds from a public health emergency statement.

New technology for detecting surplus silica

A device that is now mandatory for use in coal mines in real time, the amount of coal dust in the air. But he is not able to measure the particles of silica in the air they breathe.

Samples of a different device should be sent to MSHA's Silica Testing Laboratory, and it may take up to three weeks to get results. Excessive exposures may continue for dozens of shifts in the meantime.

So NIOSH has developed a new silicon dioxide monitoring system that can provide results at the end of the mining shift. [19659907] "In a few minutes, we have the result instead of waiting for days or weeks," says Emanuele Kauda, ​​an engineer working in the NIOSH Mines Safety Department

The system was supplied to coal mines At the end of 2018, it used existing devices, but they were expensive – ranging from $ 10,000 to $ 20,000 – and the introduction of the system was voluntary

The sacred grail for sampling of silicon dioxide is a monitor that reads real-time exposure NIOSH works But this is a question, but he says the working model is for years. The film Frontline Litter Powder Coal produced in partnership with NPR, broadcast on Tuesday, January 22 at 10 pm ET / 9 hours CT on PBS stations across the country and will be available at https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/film/coals-deadly-dust/
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