Respirators and solutions for black lung

Paul Boughton

Kristine White looks at the protection products that have dominated the market over the past 20 years and potential innovation.

In light of the recent news of a resurgence of black lung disease, the Obama administration recently carried out scientific studies and analysis to support tighter limits on the levels of exposure to coal dust.

Respirators and other breathing devices may seem useful for protecting coal miners from the dust that causes black lung. But federal law in the US does not permit using respirators as a way of complying with dust exposure limits.[Page Break]

So are respirators a solution?

Pulmonologist Edward Petsonk, a consultant for the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, comments: "Mine operators must control the dust first and then they can offer respirators to the miners if they choose to wear them." 

David Neil, who spent most of the 1980s mining coal underground in West Virginia states that some miners find respirators a burden.

Randall Wriston, whose last mining job underground was in 2008 and was one of the few miners who wore a respirator, comments that: “I'm finding out now that the respirators that they supplied us with were no good … You'd be cutting rock and ... the heat ... would actually burn through my respirator."[Page Break]


So are there alternative breathing apparatus that wouldn’t be a burden but can be used instead of respirators?

Airstream helmets were once considered a solution to exposure for miners in the dirtiest jobs. The helmets pump clean air down across a worker's face which is behind a plastic shield.

The helmets "may offer some improvement but they are bulky and noisy,” according to Pulmonologist Edward Petsonk. But some miners also complain that the helmets impair vision.

Bob Glenn, a black lung consultant for the National Mining Association in the US, (NMA), believes helmets could be useful as a short-term fix; stating that "… then you need to correct the situation. That is, you need to ventilate the mines until you get the exposures low."[Page Break]

Exposure to dust

Former miner Mark McCowan said he tried to use the Airstream helmets after he was diagnosed with black lung. He wanted to continue working and to limit his exposure to mine dust. However, he describes the helmets as 'junk'.

There is clearly a need for new respiratory protection for miners to protect them from dust exposure.

There are some new and innovative products and these include:

DustPro Spray Systems (): NESCO's Dust Control Solutions; high pressure spray system controls visible emissions, keeps dust out of the area and away from workers.

GOKANG ZH30, Coal Mine Respirator: This breathing apparatus generates isolated oxygen with a closed circuit circulation style by the process of a chemical reaction. This respirator can be used to provide the wearer with clean oxygen underground.

GOKANG ZY45 Isolated Compressed Oxygen Self-Rescuer: This respirator utilises compressed oxygen as source to form isolated oxygen in a closed circuit to provide the wearer with clean oxygen.

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