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Taking On Black Lung

In the wake of the historic rescue of miners in Chile, Maureen Tracey-Mooney with the Office of the Vice President, discusses efforts to tackle an even more widespread danger to miners.

Last week, the attention of the entire world was focused on the historic rescue of 33 miners in Chile. It was a moment of triumph for the miners and for the international team that helped plan and execute the rescue.

In the midst of our excitement at their rescue, it is important to remember that many, many more miners lose their lives each year, not just to accidents at mines, but also to the greatest threat to American miners: black lung disease.

Sadly, because deaths from this painful disease don’t have the sudden, devastating impact or bring the media attention that mine explosions generate, black lung has gotten less attention than it deserves.

The truth is, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, black lung prevalence has only increased in recent years. In fact, over the past decade, black lung has taken the lives and devastated the families of more than 10,000 coal miners.  It’s not just affecting our older workers, either – more and more, we’re seeing this disease appear in our younger miners as well.

That’s why last year the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) launched a campaign to take on this critical issue.

MSHA took its latest step in this ongoing effort last week when they proposed a new rule that helps protect miners from the disease by reducing their exposure to its cause – respirable coal dust.  The rule would set lower limits for how much respirable dust workers can be exposed to in the mine, improve rules about sampling the air for dust to provide a better understanding of the danger workers face on any given shift, and expand medical check-ups outside of the mine so that miners can take proactive steps to protect their health. To find out more about the rule, click here.

As the Vice President said in response to the new proposed rule, "In America in the 21st century, workers should not have to risk illness or death in order to provide for their families … This rule will provide today's miners with long-overdue protections against needless threats to their health."

Maureen Tracey-Mooney is Senior Policy Analyst in the Office of the Vice President