MSHA

Adelina Lancianese

A Congressional panel heard testimony and had some sharp questions Thursday about the epidemic of black lung disease among Appalachian miners. Labor leaders are calling on federal regulators to strengthen protections for miners and several lawmakers wanted to know why the country’s top mine safety agency is not doing more in response to the dramatic increase in the preventable but deadly disease.

Progressive massive fibrosis, the most severe form of black lung disease, now afflicts roughly 2,500 miners, depriving them the ability to work, play and complete simple tasks, like walking to get the mail. A 2018 investigation from NPR, PBS Frontline and the ReSource found that far more miners had PMF than had been recognized in government reports, and that those cases were concentrated in central Appalachia.


Howard Berkes/NPR

Harold Sturgill was disabled by black lung disease when he was 58 years old. Now he advocates for disabled miners.

“When it comes to the mining companies, and it comes to the worker, it’s still all about production,” Sturgill said. “They could care less about me, how much dust I suck in, or how long I’m going to live, because somebody else is there to take my place.”

Sturgill worries that without meaningful action to protect miners, his son, who is also a miner, will contract the same illness. “A man’s gonna feed his family whether it kills him or not,” he said.


Sydney Boles

In apparent anticipation of a federal lawsuit seeking recovery of overdue penalties, coal companies owned by the family of West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice have filed a lawsuit of their own against federal surface mining regulators.

The suit, first reported by WV MetroNews, is an apparent preemptive strike against the federal government, which is preparing to sue the companies over unpaid fines associated with more than 100 environmental and reclamation violations at mines in West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky.

Mine Safety Debt For WV Gov. Justice’s Family Companies Grows to $4M

Apr 8, 2019
West Virginia Governor's office

An Ohio Valley ReSource analysis of federal mine safety data shows that the companies belonging to the family of West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice owe $4.3 million in delinquent debt for mine safety violations. That is far more than the companies owed when Justice ran for governor in 2016, when he pledged to make good on such debts.

The Justice companies still have the highest delinquent mine safety debt in the U.S. mining industry.

Unpaid mine safety violations have been a chronic problem for the Justice companies. In 2014, an NPR investigation showed Justice companies owed just under $2 million in delinquent federal mine safety penalties, which are levied by the Mine Safety and Health Administration, or MSHA

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MSHA records

Just a few months ago, the U.S. coal mining industry was on track for its safest year in history. But in an eleven-day span in late December, three miners died after separate incidents, bringing the total number of fatalities in 2018 to 12, even as coal mining employment continued its decline.

“It is a reminder to enforcement agencies and companies who are responsible for miner safety that you always have to be vigilant, you can never let up your guard,” Kentucky lawyer and mine safety advocate Tony Oppegard said.


NPR

NPR is reporting that more than two thousand coal miners are now suffering from the most severe form of black lung disease, Progressive Massive Fibrosis, or PMF. And despite clear warnings, investigative reporter Howard Berkes shows, the mining industry and government regulators did little to stop it.

Data loom large in this story: Berkes took a deep dive into 30 years of dust monitoring data from coal mines. That analysis revealed that miners were frequently exposed to toxic levels of silica dust. And a review of federal records showed that industry and regulators knew the deadly consequences long ago.


Greg Kelly's grandson, Caden, scampers to the tree-shaded creek behind his grandfather's house to catch crawdads, as Kelly shuffles along, trying to keep up. Kelly's small day pack holds an oxygen tank with a clear tube clipped to his nose. He has chairs spaced out on the short route so he can stop every few minutes, sit down and catch his breath, until he has enough wind and strength to start out again for the creek.

MSHA

The United Mine Workers of America is suing the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration, or MSHA, after the agency reduced its heightened oversight of a West Virginia coal mine with a poor safety record.

MSHA has the power to declare mines with a history of significant safety violations as having a “Pattern of Violations.” Known as “POV status,” the declaration is an enforcement tool that allows the agency to increase regulatory scrutiny at a mine with repeated safety issues.

Michael Sullivan/Getty Images/Science Source

Epidemiologists at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health say they’ve identified the largest cluster of advanced black lung disease ever reported, a cluster that was first uncovered by NPR 14 months ago.

In a research letter published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, NIOSH confirms 416 cases of progressive massive fibrosis or complicated black lung in three clinics in central Appalachia from 2013 to 2017.

c-span

The Trump administration’s Office of Management and Budget has announced a review of an Obama-era rule that protects coal miners from exposure to the dust that causes black lung disease.

That has some health and safety advocates concerned. The review comes amid a tide of regulatory rollbacks by the Trump administration and at a time that black lung disease is on the rise in Appalachian coal country.


Manchin Opposes Trump’s Mine Safety Nominee

Sep 27, 2017
Courtesy office of Sen. Manchin

West Virginia Democratic U.S. Senator Joe Manchin will not support the Trump administration’s nominee to lead the federal agency in charge of mine safety. 

Manchin said in a statement that he will not support David Zatezalo to lead the Mine Safety and Health Administration, or MSHA. Zatezalo, a Wheeling, West Virginia, resident and former coal company executive, was named as Trump’s pick for the post in early September. 

Manchin said that after reviewing Zatezalo’s qualifications and safety record during his time in the coal industry, he is “not convinced that Mr. Zatezalo is suited to oversee the federal agency that implements and enforces mine safety laws and standards.”

MSHA

Lawmakers and union leaders are raising concerns about the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration’s practices amid an increase in coal fatalities.  

West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin asked MSHA for more information after receiving what he calls “alarming” reports about how the agency is implementing its new Compliance Assistance Program.

In a September 7th letter, Manchin wrote that he’s heard of miners being denied the ability to assign a representative to accompany MSHA inspectors and that those inspectors have been instructed to leave their credentials behind before inspecting a mine.


Three former officials at an eastern Kentucky mine where a coal miner was killed in 2011 have been fined in federal court and ordered to spend time on probation for violating federal mine safety standards.

U.S. District Judge Gregory van Tatenhove scheduled a hearing to determine whether to impose a fine for Manalapan Mining Co.

The men were supervisors at Manalapan's P-1 Mine in Harlan County during a June 2011 underground collapse that killed miner David Partin.

An audit of the Mine Safety and Health Administration shows it's implemented more than half the 100 internal changes recommended after a 2010 explosion killed 29 West Virginia coal miners.

The Department of Labor's Office of Inspector General says MSHA's efforts to address its own shortcomings began well before an internal review report was released in March of 2012.

flickr/Creative Commons

The U.S. Department of Labor has approved new rules it says will improve safety at the nation's most dangerous coal mines by revising the way operators are designated pattern violators.

Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said they improve the Mine Safety and Health Administration's ability to hold mine operators accountable for disregarding life saving safety measures. MSHA chief Joe Main says they're long overdue and could prevent 1,800 injuries over ten years.

The changes were proposed after the Upper Big Branch mine exploded in April 2010, killing 29 men.