WASHINGTON, D.C. (WBOY) — A group of U.S. senators, including West Virginia’s Senator Joe Manchin, are making another push for improved Mine Safety and Health Administration (MHSA) silica standards, especially for Appalachian miners.

According to a release from Sen. Manchin sent Monday, he, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) sent a letter to MSHA Assistant Secretary Chris Williamson, saying that the updated standards are well overdue.

Exposure to silica in mines can cause black lung, silicosis and progressive massive fibrosis, which, according to the letter, “are entirely preventable.” A report from the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Inspector General in 2020 recommended that the best solution for limiting illnesses caused by silica was to lower the legal exposure limit.

The letter said that the update was expected nearly a year ago in January 2022.

“For generations, our brave coal miners have risked their lives and health to power our nation to greatness. We have an obligation as a country to protect their health and welfare with commonsense rules and regulations.”

Letter from Senators Manchin, Brown, Casey, Warner and Kaine

The letter cited an increase in black lung cases as a reason for the continued push for change, saying that black lung cases tripled from 1999 to 2014. “This increase in the diagnoses of black lung disease over time is expected to worsen without action,” it said.

“While we understand that the federal rulemaking process is complex and can be time-consuming, we also recognize the critical importance of an updated silica standard to the health and safety of our nation’s coal miners,” said the senators, and they asked for an update on the standard’s process as well as reasons for its delay.

The full letter can be read here.

In response, Assistant Secretary for Mine Safety and Health Christopher J. Williamson sent the following statement to 12 News on Tuesday:

“Issuing a proposed rule to better protect miners from developing occupational illnesses related to respirable crystalline silica exposure is a top priority for me and MSHA.  Our team understands the importance of getting these improved protections in place for miners, and I want to assure miners, labor, mine operators, and the rest of the mining community that we are devoting every available resource and working as quickly as possible to put out a proposed rule.

“From the moment I became assistant secretary, I have prioritized miners’ health and listened to miners, health experts, and medical providers about what happens when miners are exposed to silica at unhealthy levels.  We have also implemented a silica enforcement initiative, launched our Miner Health Matters Campaign, and made reforms to increase awareness and improve accessibility to our existing Part 90 program, and we will continue to prioritize protecting miners’ health as well as their safety.

“I appreciate and welcome Senators Manchin, Casey, Brown, Warner, and Kaine’s interest in and support of our silica rulemaking efforts, and their long-standing commitment to protecting miners’ safety and health.  I look forward to working with them as we continue to make progress on our rule and other miners’ health initiatives.”

Assistant Secretary for Mine Safety and Health Christopher J. Williamson