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MSHA seeks feedback on coal dust rule study; has ‘no intention of rolling back the protections’

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Arlington, VA — The Mine Safety and Health Administration is seeking input on a study of its respirable coal mine dust rule, as outlined in the 2014 regulation, according to a Request for Information published in the July 9 Federal Register.

The agency is soliciting stakeholder feedback to help form the framework of the study, intended to evaluate the health effects of the rule. MSHA also requests information and data for engineering controls and best practices that would reduce mine worker exposure to respirable coal dust.

The rule lowered the dust exposure limit at underground and surface coal mines to 1.5 milligrams per cubic meter of air from 2.0 milligrams per cubic meter of air. Other changes included establishing sampling requirements with continuous personal dust monitors.

A preambulatory note in the rule indicated that the study was to begin in February 2017. Speaking this past February during a hearing before the House Workforce Protections Subcommittee, MSHA Administrator David Zatezalo said the study was delayed for undisclosed reasons.

“To be clear, MSHA is initiating the study referenced in the preamble to the final rule to determine if the rule is meeting its intended result,” Zatezalo said in a July 6 press release. “MSHA has no intention of rolling back the protections afforded to coal miners under the final dust rule.”

In December, the Department of Labor stated that the rule was set for review under its latest semiannual regulatory agenda. Later that month, Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Bob Casey (D-PA), Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Mark Warner (D-VA) outlined their opposition to any rollback to the rule in a letter to Secretary of Labor R. Alexander Acosta.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) expressed a similar sentiment in a separate letter sent to Acosta on the same day.

In May, researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago presented findings showing that more than 4,600 coal miners have developed progressive massive fibrosis – the most severe form of black lung disease – since 1970. Nearly half of the cases have been discovered since 2000.

A 2016 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found a resurgence in progressive massive fibrosis since 1999.

MSHA notes that the ultimate evaluation of the health effects of the rule might not be seen for at least a decade, given the generally accepted latency period of respiratory diseases caused by respirable coal mine dust.

Comments are due July 9, 2019.

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