"An Addiction To Cheat" On Coal Mine Dust Inspections

  • Scott Detrow

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A western Pennsylvania coal miner, in 2001


On Monday, NPR reported black lung diagnoses have doubled over the past decade, and quadrupled in West Virginia, Virginia and eastern Kentucky.
Part two of a joint investigative report with the Center for Public Integrity casts a critical eye on the regulations that are supposed to limit the amount of dust in coal mines:

Measuring coal mine dust is key to preventing overexposure. Excess dust can trigger citations, fines and even slowdowns in coal production. Mining companies enforce their own compliance by taking and reporting mine dust samples. Federal mine inspectors also test for excessive dust.
But NPR and CPI have found widespread and persistent gaming of the system designed to measure and control exposure.
Federal records obtained by CPI and NPR describe 103 cases resulting in criminal convictions for fraudulent dust sampling from 1980 through 2002. Fines totaled $2.2 million, and some mining company officials went to jail.
In 1991, the Labor Department levied civil fines of more than $6.5 million against about 500 coal mines for tampering with mine dust samples.
There was “an addiction to cheat,” said Lynn Martin, who was secretary of labor at the time.

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