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Ky. coal company accused of cheating on sampling meant to protect miners from black lung

  • Aug 18, 2022
Lexington Herald-Leader

An Eastern Kentucky coal mine cheated on dust sampling designed to protect workers from disabling and deadly black lung disease, a federal grand jury has charged.

The grand jury on Wednesday indicted Black Diamond Coal LLC, which had an underground mine in Floyd County, and Walter Perkins, who was in charge of dust sampling in the mine.

The company faces one charge of willfully violating mandatory federal health and safety standards and one charge of making false statements.

Perkins was indicted on one charge of violating federal health and safety standards and two charges of making false statements.

Federal rules require sampling in mines to make sure workers are not exposed to excessive levels of breathable dust that gets churned up as machines grind out coal and rock.

Black lung is a progressive, incurable disease caused by inhaling the dust. It impairs breathing and often leads to premature death.

Mine operators are required to use measures such as ventilation to keep down the concentration of respirable dust and have to monitor the level of dust using devices that miners wear.

Black Diamond allegedly ran a dust monitor in clean air outside the mine in October 2020 rather than keeping it on an employee underground, lowering the dust reading, and then submitted the false sampling information to the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration.

Perkins was charged with knowingly failing to require a coal miner to wear the dust monitor underground as required and lying about it.

Perkins told a mine inspector that he had assigned an employee operating a continuous mining machine to wear the dust monitor but that the device malfunctioned, when in fact he didn’t give the device to the worker, according to the indictment.

Perkins also allegedly gave false information about the incident to an investigator from MSHA who was questioning why the monitor was running in clean air outside the mine.

The most serious charges against the company and Perkins are punishable by up to five years in prison.

The prevalence of black lung, which once affected more than 40% of longtime underground miners, dropped sharply after Congress adopted rules in 1969 aimed at limiting miners’ exposure to coal dust.

However, researchers started seeing an increase in the disease in the early 2000s, particularly in Eastern Kentucky and central Appalachia, and documented advanced cases of the disease at younger ages.

Studies cited failure by coal companies to comply with dust rules as one possible factor in the increase.

MSHA put more stringent standards in place in 2014 aimed at reducing miners’ exposure to dust.

©2022 Lexington Herald-Leader. Visit Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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