|The dangers faced by coal miners have been well-documented—black lung disease, for example, was identified decades ago. But about 15.3 percent of workers in the mining industry—an estimated 10,500 people—are employed not in mines but in preparation plants, mill operations, or breakers nationwide, and evidence suggests that these prep plants pose their own dangers for those working inside.
A variety of chemicals are used in these prep plants on a daily basis, many of them to purify coal. MCHM (4-methyl-cyclohexanemethanol), the chemical that left almost 300,000 West Virginians without safe drinking water after a spill in January, is one of these chemicals. Hundreds of people sought hospital treatment after MCHM exposure during that crisis, and at least 20 were admitted. But what are the dangers for coal preparation plant workers who are exposed to higher concentrations of these chemicals on a regular basis for the span of a career?
As with MCHM, the answer proves to be nebulous. For many of these chemicals, complete information on their potential health effects isn’t available, and long-term effects are even more difficult to establish. One workers’ rights organization, the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), has been seeking updated regulations regarding chemical safety standards and reporting for years.
Alfred Ray Price is one of many former preparation plant workers who believe their health problems can be directly linked to their time spent around chemicals. Price worked in the coal industry for 28 years, including 19 at the Montcoal #7 Prep Plant in Raleigh County, W.V. He remembers spraying coal cars with antifreeze in the wintertime to keep the coal from sticking—32 gallons per car—while standing on a catwalk above.
Price had to stop working because of health problems at age 47. He said PET scans of his brain pointed to cognitive disorders, including short-term memory loss. He later became involved in one of two class-action lawsuits in Marshall County, W.V., in which about two dozen plaintiffs claimed similar chemical exposure and health problems. Many of those plaintiffs also claimed they spent years working around chemicals without being warned they could be dangerous.
One suit was settled last year, and the other was dismissed. The settlement provides for a one-time health exam for prep plant workers—but specifies that these exams aren’t intended to determine whether any health problems may have been caused by the chemicals in question. Thomas F. Basile, attorney to several of the plaintiffs, is attempting to reinstate some of the claims in these cases, and says he’s considering an appeal in the U.S. Supreme Court.
Price and some other plaintiffs aren’t satisfied with the results, but the lawsuits did achieve one thing: they placed on public record a great deal of evidence, and some testimony, regarding chemicals at coal prep plants. [...]
Blast from the Past. At Daily Kos on this date in 2013—H&M signs onto Bangladesh safety agreement as government plans minimum wage increase:
|The search for bodies in Bangladesh's collapsed Rana Plaza has ended, leaving the official death toll at 1,127. The question now is whether the country's garment industry will see real change; there are promising signs, but will the promise be fulfilled as the disaster recedes from the headlines?
The government of Bangladesh is convening a minimum wage board to issue recommendations on raising the minimum wage in the garment industry; it's currently at $38, having been raised by 80 percent in 2010 after worker protests. Despite that big raise, it remains low by global standards. So, will the wage board—which will include factory owners, workers, and the government—raise wages by a meaningful amount, or will the momentum for change slow in the three months before its recommendations are slated to come out?
Additionally, the government is announcing that workers will now be allowed to form unionswithout first getting permission from the factory owners they work for. That's a good step, but there's a distance between saying workers no longer need permission and creating conditions that realistically make it possible for them to unionize.
On today's Kagro in the Morning show, Greg Dworkin rounds horse race & health care polling news. Should the employer mandate be dropped? Press Think captures the absurdity of the NYT crafting a he said-she said piece out of party positions on voter ID laws. Felix Salmon agrees. A quick roundup of Tim Geithner book chatter. And we parse "Obama busted for false facts on Republicans’ filibusters." Follow-up on an Arizona 3-year-old's GunFAIL reminds us to Respect The Culture. Freedom of speech that overwhelms others' rights is bad, even as freedom of religion that overwhelms others' is Teh Awesome. Vox asks if this campaign cash proposal is so crazy it just might work.