I kind of think this says something bad about our nation:
PRESTONSBURG, Ky. — Donald Marcum knew he was at least a passive participant in something that was against the rules, maybe even criminal. Every couple of months, his bosses had to submit to the Mine Safety and Health Administration five samples showing they were keeping dust levels under control. When he ran a continuous mining machine, which chews through coal and rock and generates clouds of dust, he was supposed to wear a pump to collect dust for eight hours.
That almost never happened. Most of the time, said Marcum, 51, who spent nearly 25 years in the mines of eastern Kentucky and suffers from the most severe form of black lung, the foreman or someone else would take the pump and hang it in cleaner air near the mine’s entrance.
“We just done what we was told because we needed to feed our families and really didn’t look at what it might be doing to our health,” he said.
In recent interviews, retired miners in West Virginia, Kentucky and Virginia — some of whom had worked as recently as 2008 — described similar tricks. Dust pumps ended up in lunchboxes or mine offices. Mine officials stalled regulators who had shown up for a surprise inspection and radioed to the men underground, who fixed the ventilation and cleaned up the work site.
“I don’t know if any [manipulation of dust samples] is going on today,” said Bruce Watzman, the National Mining Association’s senior vice president for regulatory affairs. “I hope not. We encourage our members to fulfill their obligations under the law.”
More than 40 years ago, Congress promised that the government would force mining companies to control levels of the dust that causes black lung. Instead, rampant cheating and exploitation of legal loopholes have become part of mining culture, an investigation by the Center for Public Integrity and NPR has found.
After decades of decline, black lung is back, with more cases of the fastest-progressing form of the disease robbing younger miners of their breath. As researchers struggle to explain this resurgence, there is widespread agreement that the samples used by regulators to assess dust levels in a mine bear little resemblance to the conditions miners typically face.</blockquote>