Mine industry gets advance look at cancer study

A mine industry group has been lent an advance look at a long-anticipated study gauging the cancer risks facing underground miners, the Center for Public Integrity (CPI) reported Monday.

The move has raised the eyebrows of mine safety advocates, who say the early glance gives the companies an undue advantage to mold a response and release it quickly when the findings are made public. 

 "Government researchers do studies all the time and publish them in peer-reviewed journals," Celeste Monforton, former work-safety official in the Labor Department who’s now at George Washington University, told CPI. "This is the only example I know of where an industry group gets access to the information before anybody else does.

"As soon as the study is published [the industry] will already have another paper prepared that will dissect it and explain away any risks that are identified.”

The study — conducted by researchers at the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) — is designed to determine the extent to which diesel exhaust affects lung cancer rates among workers in non-coal, underground mines.

The findings are intended to help labor and health officials finalize new rules designed to protect workers from diesel exhaust.

“When there is uncontrolled diesel equipment in an underground mine, it is like working in the tailpipe of a city bus,” Mike Wright, health and safety director for the United Steelworkers, told CPI. 

The mining lobby isn't thrilled about the undertaking. And one industry group — the Methane Awareness Resource Group Diesel Coalition — hired a prominent Patton Boggs attorney, Henry Chajet, to make its case, CPI reported. 

In turn, Chajet filed legal arguments claiming that the two health agencies were acting “unfairly, unjustly and unreasonably” toward the industry by not allowing the companies an early glance at the study, according to CPI.

In June, a federal judge agreed, requiring the agencies to turn over their findings 90 days before publication, CPI wrote. 

The study is scheduled to be published next month.