The Lackawanna Historical Society of Scranton, Pennsylvania, had a calendar of virtual events scheduled during the month of January to celebrate the industry that ‘put their area on the map’ – coal mining. The local news station interviewed one of the spokespersons for the Historical Society who said that a collaboration of local historical societies, museums, and mining organizations have been banding together to commemorate that spirit of coal mining. Although the event commemorates the date of the Knox Mine Disaster in the late 50s, when the Susquehanna River flooded a Knox Coal Company mine and twelve miners were killed, the event organizers believe that January is all about spotlighting a time “when coal was king many years ago.”
According to the USGS, “anthracite, the highest rank of coal, is a hard, brittle, and black lustrous coal, often referred to as hard coal, containing a high percentage of fixed carbon and a low percentage of volatile matter…. It played a significant role in Pennsylvania coal during the Industrial Revolution in the United States.”
Scranton is also home to the Anthracite Heritage Museum, where visitors can experience the harsh working conditions as they walk amid the diverse collection of exhibits that portray life in the mines, mills and factories.
Coal mining conditions, historically known to be dirty and dangerous, has progressed over the past 70 years, yet there are still severe working conditions. Especially dangerous is the air that the miners breathe. The CDC has noted in the past that exposure to dust in coal mines can cause several lung diseases, including black lung, silicosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), bronchitis, and emphysema.
The CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) reported that “From 2007 through 2016, coal workers’ pneumoconiosis (CWP) has been the underlying or contributing cause of death for 4,118 miners and a total of 75,178 miners from 1970 through 2016. More than $47.168 billion dollars in federal compensation has been paid to miners and their families from 1971 through 2019 for claims filed under the Black Lung Benefits Act.”
The CDC notes that Black Lung can be prevented by measuring and controlling respirable coal mine dust exposures, and by early disease detection through lung screening and surveillance.
NIOSH offers these published resources for the mining industry to assist their effort to control dust and diesel exposure.
These include Best Practices for Dust Control in Coal Mining, Best Practices for Dust Control in Metal/Nonmetal Mining, the second edition of the Dust Control Handbook for Industrial Minerals Mining and Processing, and Diesel Aerosols and Gases in Underground Mines: Guide to Exposure Assessment and Control.
NIOSH research produced a personal dust monitor that can provide an accurate measurement of airborne respirable dust immediately at the end of a mine workers’ work shift. The instrument also provides in-shift information that the worker can use to identify potential overexposures and then implement changes to reduce his or her exposure. This instrument was approved by NIOSH and MSHA for use as a continuous personal dust monitor (CPDM). As part of the 2014 MSHA dust rule, mine operators are required to use this instrument to measure dust exposure in underground coal mining operations to demonstrate compliance with the applicable dust limit.
A real-time dust monitor is the first line of defense in preventing long-term health effects. The battery-operated dust monitoring device tracks the shift-average respirable dust exposure as it approaches regulatory limits. Three primary, real-time measurements are provided: primary current mass concentration, primary cumulative mass concentration and percent of limit. Two secondary user-initiated measurements are also available and can be performed without interfering with the primary sample. This technology provides mine workers and management with the tools for personal coal dust monitoring, thus helping to reduce their exposure. (A video of how a personal dust monitor works can be viewed on this page.)
Celebrate Anthracite Heritage Day by remembering the miners who face these working conditions and learning how mining has been made safer.
You can read about the risks, the legislation, health facts, and the personal dust monitor technology in our previously published articles:
- Part 1: The Risk of Coal Dust Inhalation
- Part 2: A Historical Look at Legislation
- Part 3: Mine Safety and Health Facts Review