Charleston Gazette-Mail Article on Resurgence of Black Lung and Dust-Fraud Testimony in Blankenship Trial

Image of Don Blankenship

Over the weekend, the Charleston Gazette-Mail had an excellent story by Ken Ward, Jr. about black lung and the criminal trial of Don Blankenship:  “Black Lung Sampling at Issue in Blankenship Trial.”

The story connected coal miners’ testimony about dust fraud in Blankenship’s trial with data covered in previous posts showing an upsurge in black lung.

The article recounted the testimony as follows:

Michael Shawn Ellison remembers what miners at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine would do when it came time to wear the dust pumps. The pumps, which monitor a worker’s exposure to coal dust, are supposed to help ensure miners are protected from deadly black lung disease. Pumps measure dust levels, so regulators know if they are above legal limits.

But at Upper Big Branch, Ellison says, he and other miners were told to wear the pumps inside their work bibs, “just to try to get not as true a reading.”

Other times, workers would hang the dust monitors in the mine’s fresh-air tunnel. “They would be hung in the intake where fresh air was blowing where it wouldn’t be near the faces in the dust,” Ellison said.

. . .

Bobbie Pauley, the only woman working underground at Upper Big Branch, told stories just like Ellison’s.

“There were times that we were supposed to be wearing them, but they were placed out back in the intake area or in another area so that the test would come out clearer, cleaner,” Pauley told the jury. “It would indicate that there was cleaner air than what there actually was.”

Upper Big Branch miner Stanley “Goose” Stewart told jurors the same thing. He said Massey’s talk about complying with rules like those meant to protect miners from black lung was just that — talk.

“At UBB, if you wore these things the way that you should wear them and the way the law required you to wear them, it would have been impossible to bring them into compliance,” Stewart testified.

“So with that being said, we would be instructed, you know, maybe told, hey, ‘Do the right thing,’” Stewart said. “And oftentimes they would be hung in the intake airway, fresh airways — and I have had this happen — I would go stand in the intake airway myself and someone else that knew how to operate the miner would operate it for me.”

At trial the jury also heard audio of Blankenship saying that “Black lung is not an issue in this industry that is worth the effort” (see previous post here).

Regardless of whether the jury finds Blankenship guilty of defrauding MSHA, these miners’ testimonies are now part of the public record that helps explain why we are seeing a resurgence of black lung.

For updates on the Blankenship trial, I recommend following Ken Ward’s blog:  Coal Tattoo.

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