Asbestos Exposure Limits for Miners Changed by Federal Mine Safety and Health Administration

New Asbestos Exposure Limits Promote Increased Miner Safety

March 17, 2008 - The U.S. Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) has recently revised exposure limits on asbestos for miners. The ruling changes health standards for asbestos exposure at metal and nonmetal mines, surface coal mines and surface areas of underground coal mines. "This final rule will help improve health protection for miners who work in an environment where asbestos is present," said Richard E. Stickler, Acting Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health. "Furthermore, it will help lower the risk of material impairment of health or functional capacity over a miner's working lifetime." (Mine Safety and Health Administration, February 29, 2008) Exposure to asbestos may cause debilitating diseases such as asbestosis, lung cancer, and the fatal cancer, mesothelioma.

MSHA's Permissible Asbestos Exposure Limits Now Match OSHA's

The new ruling, in effect April 29th, lowers MSHA's permissible exposure limits to match those of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). It is now illegal for employers in the mining industry to expose workers to asbestos concentrations higher than 0.1 fibers over an eight-hour time period. MSHA's previous 2.0 fibers (per cubic meter of air) exposure limit allowed miners to be exposed to 20 times the limit for an eight-hour time weighted average exposure as set by OSHA.

The requirements of the new asbestos exposure limit rule are:

  • MSHA lowers the Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) for asbestos to 0.1 fibers over an eight-hour time period.
  • MSHA will use phase-contrast microscopy (PCM) to analyze airborne asbestos samples.
  • MSHA will use transmission electron microscopy (TEM) to confirm samples that exceed the PEL.

Asbestos Exposure and Miners-How the Libby Tragedy Prompted MSHA's New Exposure Limit

Safety advocates pursued a change in exposure limits for asbestos when miners and their families developed asbestos-related diseases such as the deadly cancer, mesothelioma, in the town of Libby, Montana. For decades, W.R. Grace & Co. owned and operated a vermiculite mine near Libby, knowingly exposing the miners to the asbestos-contaminated ore. Miners brought the asbestos dust home to their families on their clothing and residents of the town breathed lethal amounts of asbestos-laced dust in the air. Over one thousand miners in Libby have been diagnosed with, and hundreds have died from, asbestos-related diseases.

The Libby tragedy prompted an investigation into safety standards for miners. A miner's safety depends on the regulations of the agencies that are entrusted to protect them from asbestos and other occupational hazards. In 2001, the Labor Department's general investigator recommended that MSHA lower its exposure limit rule. Unfortunately, it has taken more than seven years for MSHA to act on the Labor Department's recommendation.

Asbestos Exposure and Your Legal Rights

For over 24 years, the asbestos attorneys at Brayton Purcell have been protecting the legal rights of asbestos victims including injured workers and their families. Many of our clients suffer from asbestosis, mesothelioma, lung cancer, or other asbestos-related diseases. Located in California, with offices in Oregon and Utah, we represent clients in all fifty states, often working with local counsel. Our experienced asbestos attorneys are there for you, providing support and understanding as well as outstanding legal advocacy.