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New coal dust rules take effect

By: Tanner Hesterberg Email
By: Tanner Hesterberg Email

HAZARD, Ky. (WYMT) - New rules aimed at reducing black lung disease went into effect Friday.

The rules are part of President Obama's push to limit coal dust in mines, but coal industry officials worry the new regulations could lead to more layoffs.

The new regulations require miners to sample for coal dust more often.

Coal operators also face citations if they do not take immediate action to correct high levels of dust.

Dave Blankenship, director of safety and environmental affairs at TECO Coal Corporation, said TECO will likely have to spend half a million dollars to comply with the rules.

"With the increased number of samples, the increased number of locations we have to sample, because those are going to bloom and blossom to a much greater number, we're going to have to add as this (Perry County) facility alone three different people full time," Blankenship said.

Some laid-off miners may get called back to work now that coal companies will need additional workers to perform the higher number of coal dust samples now required, Blankenship said.

"But that doesn't help the bottom line," he said. "Whether they're laid off workers that we bring back or they are people we hire off the street, you're still adding that cost to the bottom line of producing a ton of coal."

Evan Smith, an attorney at Appalachian Citizens Law Center in Whitesburg, handles black lung cases and said the new rules are long overdue.

"I think these rules will have an effect at lowering black lung," Smith said. "My goal and I think all of our goals should be to eliminate black lung and have none of it."

"The real impact that this rule is going to have isn't about the dust standard. It's about closing loopholes and about giving coal miners information they need so that they can stand up for themselves and protect their own health."

Black lung disease has killed more than 76,000 miners since 1968, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

The new rules also require mines to have better monitoring equipment by February 2016.

In August 2016, the allowable concentration of coal dust per sample will drop.

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