MHSA delay on coal-dust rule riles safety advocates

WASHINGTON -- Federal mine regulators say they will start looking at a new rule that would lower coal miners' exposure to harmful dust, but not until 2011 -- a timetable safety advocates say is unacceptable, reports The Louisville Courier-Journal in its Sunday edition.

Given that exposure to high levels of coal dust can cause black lung disease, which has killed more than 21,000 miners since the mid-1980s, the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration plan to wait two more years to tighten its rule is "bizarre," said Tony Oppegard, a former Kentucky and federal mine safety regulator.

"We still have far too many miners being debilitated or even killed by exposure to coal dust," said Oppegard, of Lexington.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recommended in 1995 that MSHA reduce the exposure limit from the current 2 milligrams per cubic liter of air to 1 milligram.

In 1998, The Courier-Journal published a series of stories that found widespread cheating by mine operators, helped by miners, to conceal deadly coal-dust levels.

But the federal mining agency, then under President Bill Clinton, never issued a new rule. President George W. Bush's administration did not act, either.

MSHA does not yet have a new chief, who holds the rank of assistant secretary of labor, though a nomination from President Barack Obama is expected shortly.

Oppegard said that pending nomination raises other questions about MSHA's timing of an announcement on coal dust standards, reports The Louisville Courier-Journal.

Copyright - The Louisville Courier-Journal

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