A new device that helps monitor coal dust levels underground could help save miners from contracting deadly lung diseases in the near future.
Called the “PDM, the device monitors miners' exposure to the dangerous dust they're breathing in—a benefit that health experts believe would scale back the prevalence of black lung disease, the respiratory illness affecting thousands of American miners.
Although the device has been available for years, and the federal agency that oversees mining safety has proposed making it mandatory in US mines, its use has been halted by politics.
"We think it needs to be deployed," said Phil Smith, spokesman for the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), to the Huffington Post. "They are allowing a disease that we know kills people to continue."
Developed by Thermo Fisher Scientific, the PDM is now part of a regulatory proposal for coal mining that would cut the threshold of allowable coal dust in mines by half. Under the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the recommendations go back to the mid-90s.
The new rules have yet to reach the White House for approval, and it appears unlikely that they will anytime soon given the politics at play in an election year. House Republicans have tried to block the rules from going into effect, inserting language in a budge bill that would defund such efforts just last month.
"If this rule, for political reasons, doesn’t move forward, then we have a whole generation of miners who will have been exposed to coal dust because people play politics with people's lives,” Celeste Monforton, who has worked at MSHA and blogged about the regulations for years, told the Huffington Post.
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The National Mining Association has urged MSHA to scrap the rule, claiming that there are “flaws in the science” of the PDM.
Black lung disease, or pneumoconiosis, is caused by dust buildup in the lungs that makes it difficult to breath. Around 10,000 miners died of the disease during a recent 10-year period and 75,000 have died since 1968, according to the NIOSH.
Despite delays, some are acting to implement the device without big government. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), for example, has introduced a broad mining reform bill that would force MSHA to roll out the new regulation within six months before more West Virginia coal miners are lost to the disease.
Until MSHA moves forward with the rule, regulators are weighing concerns submitted by stakeholders, and miners are appealing to the public for support.