New help for miners in preventing black lung disease

Afghan miners work in a coal mine.

It's been decades since the last major advancement in the monitoring and detection of the harmful minerals that lead to black lung disease. The status quo calls for samples to be collected and then mailed off to a laboratory. From there, it's a wait of several weeks to see if a given part of a mine contains dangerous materials. During that time, of course, the miner is ingesting it anyway.

A new monitor could change things significantly. It was developed by Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc. of Waltham, Mass. in conjunction with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). We speak to Ed Thimons from NIOSH who says a miner, "Can simply press a button on top of his battery pack and it will give him a reading of what his exposure to respirable coal mine dust is so far into the shift and project exposure to end of shift assuming it will stay same." So the miner gets immediate results and the mining operation can respond accordingly.

But while there is widespread agreement that the device will save lives, there are a number of economic factors in play. First, each unit costs about $13,000, making it difficult for a mining operation to afford one for each employee.

We also talk to Phil Smith from the United Mine Workers Union. He says the union is glad for the monitors but doesn't want to see workers' wages suffer. He says, "We want to make sure that as miners may need to be moved around in the mine because of exposure to coal dust, there's no financial detriment that occurs to them." Smith is confident, however, that this issue can be worked out.

Also in this program, satellite imagery allows Egyptologists to spot 17 pyramids they had never noticed before. Great news for the mummy movie industry.

About the author

John Moe is the host of Marketplace Tech Report, where he provides an insightful overview of the latest tech news.

Comments

I agree to American Public Media's Terms and Conditions.
With Generous Support From...