Nearly 10,000 U.S. coal miners died of black lung disease between 1996 and 2005, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Obviously, the federal law intended to safeguard miners from the dreaded disease is not working very well.
U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration officials have been considering new rules to curb black lung, and hope to finalize them this month.
Black lung, the generic name for coal workers' pneumoconiosis, declined after a federal law setting dust limits for mines was implemented in 1969.
But after a few years in which fewer miners seemed to fall prey to the disease, it made a comeback.
In contrast to the hundreds of miners and retirees killed each year by black lung, accidents in U.S. coal mines have claimed an average of about 29 lives during each of the past 10 years. So, while MSHA quite properly views accident prevention as a critical task, fighting back against black lung could save far more lives.
MSHA officials first began considering new mine dust rules about three years ago. But as so often seems the case when government identifies a real occupational safety threat, the bureaucrats dragged their heels.
Now the agency says it is ready to announce the proposed new rule. Once that happens, there will be additional delays before implementation occurs.
As Americans are reminded frequently - most recently with the catastrophic rollout of Obamacare - the government often does not get it right the first time when embarking on a major new initiative.
Still, three years is a long time for MSHA to have studied a new rule to save miners' lives. During that time, black lung has devastated thousands of families - many in West Virginia and Ohio.
A reasonable new campaign against the disease should be implemented as soon as possible - in terms of months, not years.