Consensus Report

Each report is produced by a committee of experts selected by the Academy to address a particular statement of task and is subject to a rigorous, independent peer review; while the reports represent views of the committee, they also are endorsed by the Academy. Learn more on our expert consensus reports.

Coal mine dust lung disease continues to be an important and complex problem affecting coal miners in the United States. Although the number of cases dropped precipitously since the late 1960s, an increase in the prevalence and severity of the disease has been documented since about 2000. Reliable information on respirable coal mine dust (RCMD) exposures in underground coal mines is crucial for predicting, reducing, and preventing mine workers' disease risks.

In 2014, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) issued a coal dust rule that lowered the allowable level of respirable coal mine dust in underground mines and required other protective measures, such as the use of personal dust monitors that provide near real-time exposure information. Although industry data are in compliance with the 2014 rule, that is not a guarantee that future disease rates will decline. Continued progress will require a shift in the way that coal mine operators approach exposure control, including carrying out voluntary monitoring and sampling that go beyond regulatory compliance.

The report recommends studies to ensure that the approach of detecting and mitigating exposures reliably controls exposures for all workers, including those not using a personal dust monitors. Recommended improvements in monitoring technology include reducing the cost and weight of a personal dust monitor, developing a real-time silica monitor and, as an interim measure, developing a commercially available end-of-shift silica monitor. Better understanding of health risks from RCMD exposure could result from expanded worker participation in periodic medical surveillance and from studies that evaluate changes in dust characteristics related to changes in mining practices over the past five decades.