Mining Unions Call For a New MSHA Silica Standard

CONTACT: Phil Smith, UMWA (703) 291-2400; Mike Wright, USW (412) 562-2580

Cecil Roberts, President of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), and Leo W. Gerard, President of the United Steelworkers (USW) union, today called for a new standard to protect miners from silica dust. The request came in a letter to David Zatezalo, the head of the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA).

Silica is believed responsible for a large rise in cases of black lung disease among coal miners in central Appalachia. In the past, the primary cause of black lung was thought to be coal dust, but as coal seams become deeper and thinner, miners are cutting through more waste rock, much of which is high in silica.

Silica is many times more dangerous to miners’ lungs than coal dust, and ordinary diagnostic techniques cannot distinguish between the two causes of respiratory disease. The epidemic of black lung has been widely reported in the scientific literature and the press, including major stories on National Public Radio and Public Broadcasting’s Frontline

In addition, silica causes both lung cancer and silicosis, another deadly dust disease, which has not been eliminated in metal and mineral mines. OSHA set a new silica standard in 2016, cutting the permissible exposure limit in half, but MSHA has yet to follow suit. 

“Black lung afflicts thousands of coal miners,” Roberts said. “We know what causes it, we know how to prevent it, yet miners are still getting it. MSHA took action in 2016 to reduce respirable coal dust. Now it must act to reduce silica exposure, and quickly.”

“All miners need this standard, surface and underground, no matter what they’re mining,” said Gerard. “This Administration says they love miners. Let’s see if they mean it.”  

The UMWA represents 105,000 active and retired miners, clean coal technicians, manufacturing workers, health care workers, public service workers and corrections officers in the United States and Canada.

The USW represents 850,000 workers in North America employed in many industries that include metals, mining, rubber, chemicals, paper, oil refining and the service, public and health care sectors.

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