Thursday, July 12, 2018

Former coal-company supervisors indicted for faking dust numbers, hiding risk of black-lung disease

"Eight former supervisors and safety officials for Kentucky coal mines were indicted Wednesday on charges that they lied to or misled federal regulators about the amount of harmful coal dust workers were exposed to," Dave Jamieson reports for HuffPost. "Russell Coleman, the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Kentucky, said that officials at now-defunct Armstrong Coal routinely submitted phony records to the Mine Safety and Health Administration in an effort to downplay the amount of coal dust in two of its mines. By doing so, the company would have concealed the true risk of its miners developing pneumoconiosis, better known as black lung disease."

Miners at Armstrong's Parkway Mine in Muhlenberg County said management had pressured them to register artificially low readings for coal dust on their dust pumps, typically by only wearing them for a short part of their shift. The indictment called it a conspiracy to "conceal from MSHA the ongoing, systemic and pervasive violation of mandatory health and safety standards.”

Mine operators can mitigate coal dust with better ventilation, but that can cause delays in production. Miners are often uncomfortable about speaking up about dust fraud for fear of losing their jobs or being blackballed. So, while the Armstrong indictment is unusual, the practice is widespread in the coal industry, Jamieson reports.

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