Coal Miners & Asbestos Exposure

Quick Summary

Coal mining is one of the most dangerous industries, even without accounting for asbestos exposure. Though many coal miners may not believe they are at risk, some coal mines could be contaminated with asbestos. Mining equipment may also have contained asbestos and exposed unsuspecting coal miners.

Coal Miners & the Dangers of Asbestos

Coal mining is one of the most dangerous jobs that anyone can have. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics states that “employees in coal mining are more likely to be killed or to incur a non-fatal injury or illness, and their injuries are more likely to be severe than workers in private industry as a whole.”

Risks Faced by Coal Miners

Although the number of miners in the U.S. has declined in recent years, you may be shocked to hear that over 82,000 miners suffered fatal injuries in 2017. Besides job-related accidents, miners are at high risk of asbestos exposure and its related diseases because as asbestos naturally occurs in coal mines.

When the average person thinks of the coal mining occupation, they probably think of cave-ins and explosions — the mining dangers that are often reported in the news. But there are many other serious threats to the health of coal miners that are not often discussed.

For example, coal miners have risked exposure to asbestos for decades. As the public now knows, asbestos is the only known cause of mesothelioma, a rare and deadly cancer with no cure. Exposure to asbestos can lead to serious health problems for miners later on in their lives.

Once inhaled, microscopic asbestos fibers can settle in the lungs (or the protective lining of the lungs) and increase a miner’s risk of developing a disease. Though the risk worsens over time, even a little exposure to asbestos can lead to diseases like mesothelioma.

Coal mining was dangerous work years ago, and it remains so today. Those who spent decades in the mining industry are now at risk of developing asbestos-related diseases, including cancer. Even modern day coal miners are still at risk of asbestos exposure.

Mining & Modern Day Asbestos Risk

Asbestos mining no longer occurs in the United States, so coal miners today may not think they are at risk. However, this is not the case.

According to data from the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration, 15% of coal mines contain asbestos. Asbestos-related diseases can take 20-50 years to present themselves. Because of this, those who were exposed decades ago could be at risk of developing a disease in the near future.

Most commonly, coal mining is done through open-pit (or surface) mining and underground mining. If workers are not aware of the risks, they put themselves in danger. Being inside of long, narrow tunnels where asbestos dust has been stirred up through the mining process could expose miners to the dangerous fibers. This exposure increases their risks of getting sick later on.

Open-Pit Mining

Open-pit mining allows companies to extract coal without having to send workers down into the Earth’s surface. This form of mining removes large patches of land temporarily, giving workers access to coal. Unfortunately, coal extraction can also cause asbestos fibers to become airborne.

A good example of this is mountaintop mining. This is a variant of open-pit mining which uses explosives to break up layers of rock. Explosions can disturb natural asbestos deposits in the land and release toxic fibers into the air, making the working conditions dangerous to modern coal miners.

Although open-pit and mountaintop mining can increase the risk of asbestos fibers being inhaled, they pose less of a risk than underground mining. When mining is done above the surface, particles can sometimes be swept away by the air. This lowers the chances that workers will breathe in asbestos fibers.

Underground Mining

For many, underground mining is what comes to mind when “mining” is brought up. Compared to open-pit mining, underground mining presents much greater health risks to miners.

Though some coal miners may develop black lung from inhaling coal dust, they could also develop mesothelioma if the mine is contaminated with asbestos. Without any air circulation, the fibers have nowhere to go once they are disturbed and released into the air — except into the lungs of workers.

Mining Products

Even if a coal mine was asbestos-free, miners may have used asbestos-containing products on the job. This is especially true for miners who worked in the mid-20th century, when asbestos was used in many common mechanical products.

If asbestos-containing products wore down or got damaged, they could release fibers into the air. Miners could then easily breathe them in. Asbestos fibers could also get stuck onto workers’ clothing and be carried home with the miners. This secondhand exposure could put other family members in danger.

Products used by coal miners that could contain asbestos include:

  • Brake linings
  • Chemical pipes
  • Clutches
  • Continuous mining machines
  • Electrical components
  • Hoist machines
  • Hoses
  • Motor controls
  • Pumps
  • Shuttle cars
  • Starters
  • Switches
  • Valves
  • Wastewater removal piping
  • Winches

In some cases, clothes designed to protect miners (like gloves and masks) were made with asbestos as well — a cruel irony considering the inherent dangers of asbestos.

Coal Refinement & Asbestos Risk

Outside of extraction, coal refinement can bring just as much danger to those in the coal mining industry. In order to refine coal, it must be sanded, crushed, or filed down. This refinement process releases coal dust into the air.

If the coal is contaminated with asbestos, then asbestos fibers can enter the air and harm coal refiners as well.

According to data from the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration, asbestos levels in coal mines were 20 times higher than what is now considered to be “safe” as recently as 2005. Since asbestos-related diseases can take 20-50 years to develop, those who were exposed back then could be at risk of developing a disease in the near future.

Help for Coal Miners & Their Families

If you or someone you love worked in a coal mine and may have been exposed to asbestos, it is important to know how to get help. It does not matter how much asbestos exposure happened. Any level of exposure can increase your risk of diseases like mesothelioma.

The unfortunate reality is that many coal miners’ employers, and asbestos companies, knew about the dangers of asbestos but refused to protect or inform their workers. As a result, thousands of men, women and their families have suffered.

Today, Sokolove Law is standing by the victims of this deceit by helping them seek the justice they may deserve. As a mesothelioma law firm with over 40 years of experience in the industry, you can trust our commitment to finding justice for you and your family.

Contact us today for a free legal case review. We may be able to help you get compensation to pay for medical expenses and safeguard your family.

Author:Sokolove Law
Sokolove Law

The Sokolove Law Content Team is made up of writers, editors, and journalists. We work with case managers and mesothelioma attorneys to keep site information up to date and accurate. Our site has a wealth of resources available for victims of mesothelioma and their families.

Last modified: March 31, 2019