Friday, January 20, 2006

MSHA Delays Diesel Regulation That Protects Miners From Cancer

Bush to Miners: If The Explosions Don't Get You Then The Cancer Will...

Americans have spent a lot of time consumed by fears and prayers over the fate of miners caught up in explosions and fires. Fears, prayers, and a lot of anger that this Administration's Mine Safety and Health Administration has let conditions in the mines deteriorate to the point where, if we don't hear some good news from West Virginia pretty soon, we will have already lost in the first three weeks of January over half of the miners killed in all of 2005.

But this administration and its lobbyist friends have more than one way to kill show their concern for miners. Congressman George Miller (D-CA), Major Owens (D-NY) and Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), sent a letter to Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao today condemning the administration's proposal to delay implementation of a federal regulation that would reduce mine workers’ risk of getting cancer or heart disease from diesel fumes.
Workers in underground metal and nonmetal mines – such as salt, limestone, gold, and silver mines – often use diesel-powered equipment that emits fumes containing fine particles known as “diesel particulate matter.” Researchers have concluded that exposure to these particles in the average metal or nonmetal mine over an eight-hour period can be anywhere from 27 to 162 times the level of exposure on the streets of Los Angeles over a one-year period. Research has also shown – overwhelmingly – that such exposure to diesel particulate matter can greatly increase the risk of a range of illnesses, from headaches to cancer and heart disease.

Near the end of its second term, the Clinton Administration had finalized regulations that included a critical provision to help reduce mine workers’ exposure to diesel particulate matter inside metal and nonmetal mines. The regulations, adopted in 2001, had a five-year phase-in, providing an interim exposure limit from 2002 to 2005 and a stronger final exposure limit to take effect in January 2006. The full implementation of these limits has been racked by delays. The interim rule took effect in 2003, after a one year delay.

The final phase-in, providing mines with exposure limits on par with those experienced by other workers, was not set to take effect until tomorrow, January 20, 2006, in order to give the industry ample time to prepare for it. But in September 2005, the Bush Administration placed a notice into the Federal Register (which tracks proposed federal regulations) that it proposed to delay implementation of the exposure provision until 2011. In order to consider the proposed five-year delay, the Bush Administration also chose to delay the January 20, 2006, effective date by four months.

“That’s four more months – and possibly five more years – of miners inhaling toxic fumes that they needn’t be inhaling. Unfortunately, the Bush Administration and mining industry lobbyists don’t seem to mind the wait,” said Representative George Miller (D-CA), the senior Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee and one of the lawmakers who wrote to Chao yesterday.
The delay was first reported in Confined Space last September by guest blogger Celeste Monforton, who also wrote about another great idea from the Bush administration and mining indsutry lobbyists that would have expanded the situations where miners would have to wear respirators to protect themselves against diesel fumes and relaxed the requirement that miners would have to receive medical examinations before being forced to wear respirators.

Respirators are not as effective as engineering controls such as ventilation, which is why they are considered a last resort. Wearing a respirator can be deadly for workers with undiagnosed heart conditions. All OSHA standards require medical testing before workers wear respirators, and every major industrial hygiene and occupational health organization, as well as NIOSH, recommend such testing.

What was that that Scotty McClellan said about mine companies' safety being "a priority" for the Bush administration?

Update: More here.

Related Articles

MSHA: Let Them Breathe Diesel, September 7, 2005
Changes to MSHA Diesel Rules Threaten Miners' Health, June 7, 2005