Tester: Montana coal miners deserve updated screenings
Senator calls for modernized digital Black Lung screenings
(BIG SANDY, Mont.) – Senator Jon Tester is demanding that lung screenings for Montana’s coal miners keep pace with improvements in medical technology.
Tester is calling on the agency that oversees workers’ safety and health to allow medical screeners to use digital X-ray exams.
Coal miners regularly receive lung X-rays to check for the development of Black Lung – a permanent lung disease caused by prolonged exposure to coal dust.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health is working to update its standards for equipment used to screen coal miners for Black Lung. As part of the new standards, medical screeners could use digital X-ray technology instead of outdated film X-rays.
“Despite safety precautions, Black Lung remains a serious occupational health risk for miners,” Tester wrote Dr. David Weissman of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. “We owe it to these workers to educate them effectively about ways to reduce their occupational risks, provide proper and timely medical examinations, and assist them in filing and pursuing Black Lung claims.”
Screeners would conduct Black Lung examinations at facilities in Decker and Colstrip to serve coal miners working in southeastern Montana.
Healthcare providers began regularly screening coal miners for Black Lung symptoms in 1969.
Tester also recently sponsored the Rural Hospital and Provider Equity Act to improve compensation for rural medical care providers.
Tester’s letter to Dr. Weissman is available below and online HERE.
March 8, 2012
David Weissman, M.D.
NIOSH Docket Office
Robert A. Taft Laboratories
4676 Columbia Parkway
Cincinnati, OH 45226
Dear Dr. Weissman:
I write to encourage the prompt adoption of new specifications for Medical Examinations of Underground Coal Miners. I am pleased that NIOSH plans to modify its current regulations to allow the use of digital radiography in medical screening of coal miners for Black Lung disease. The outdated current provisions require the use of film radiography, which is being phased out by medical facilities. This change leaves many miners in already underserved rural areas with few options for certified Black Lung screening.
There are providers in Montana ready and eager to become certified screeners, but who no longer have film radiography devices. Your prompt action to amend the specifications to allow for the use of digital radiography can provide immediate access to appropriate screening and follow-up for those hard-working coal miners with Black Lung disease.
Over 135,000 coal miners work hard every day to keep the engine of America going. Over the next 10 years, another 50,000 will be hired to replace retiring miners. Despite safety precautions, Black Lung remains a serious occupational health risk for miners.
We owe it to these workers to educate them effectively about ways to reduce their occupational risks, provide proper and timely medical examinations, and assist them in filing and pursuing Black Lung claims. This simple technical change not only tracks the transition of medical imaging from analog to digital, but will go a long way to making access to lung screening and follow-up more accessible.
Thank you for your attention to this matter. I look forward to your prompt response.