Coal Workers’ Pneumoconiosis, more commonly known as CWP or black lung disease, is a devastating illness that can afflict anyone exposed to coal and crystalline silica dust. Workers at risk for black lung disease include coal miners or workers who load coal for storage, graphite miners, and workers in carbon electrodes and carbon black manufacturing operations. There is no cure for this disease, which is why prevention is so critically important.
The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) considers respirable coal dust to be one of the most serious occupational hazards in the mining industry. Despite efforts in recent years to improve screening and mitigate the risk factors, the organization has found that miners, including younger miners, continue to get the disease. More than 1,000 miners have been diagnosed by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in more than a dozen states based on the latest 10 year surveillance data.
The United States isn’t the only country that continues to battle this disease. Other countries, recently Australia, are reporting higher than expected incidences of black lung. According to an AustraliaMining.com article, reports of several new cases of black lung disease among Queensland miners shook the industry last year. An investigation by the Department of Natural Resources and Mines revealed poor documentation of confirmed cases, a lack of preventive measures, and too few screening tests were to blame. Another Australia Mining article points to a combination of responsible factors: the first being the belief that black lung disease is a thing of the past and that any potential cases will be identified by health assessment screening; the other being that original purpose of the health assessments, to identify early stages of black lung and implement corrective measures, has been replaced with a focus on pre-employment medical assessment. Both articles stress the need for a greater focus on prevention, early detection, and ongoing surveillance.
In the United States, such efforts are underway. In 2014, MSHA issued a new rule requiring the use of a continuous personal dust monitor (CPDM) in underground coal mines by February 1, 2016. In December 2014, a dust monitor was approved by NIOSH that satisfies the 30 CFR Part 74 CPDM instrument requirements for compliance with the MSHA dust rule. The battery operated 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.
On February 1, 2016, Phase II of MSHA’s respirable dust rule went into effect. It requires mine operators:
- To use continuous personal dust monitors (CPDMs) to monitor underground coal mine occupations exposed to the highest respirable dust concentrations as well as to monitor miners who have evidence of Black Lung (Part 90 miners);
- To collect an increased number of respirable coal mine dust samples in underground mines for occupations most exposed to respirable dust and for Part 90 miners;
- To notify miners more quickly on the results of respirable dust samples taken with the CPDM.
Here’s the review for the Queensland government on the health assessment of miners which identified serious deficiencies at virtually all levels of the scheme.