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MSHA celebrates final silica dust rule

Story by David Beard, The Dominion Post 

UNIONTOWN, Penn. — Miners and mining labor leaders with U.S. Department of Labor Acting Secretary Julie Su on Tuesday to celebrate DOL’s final rule to protect miners from silica dust.

“Today we’re making it clear that no job should be a death sentence, that every single worker should come home healthy and safe at the end of the day and at the end of a career,” Su told the crowd gathers at the United Mine Workers of America Region 1-District 2 headquarters.

Julie Su

DOL’s Mine Safety and Health Administration proposed the rule last June. MSHA’s current standard for metal/nonmetal (MNM) mines is 100 micrograms per cubic meter of air for a full-shift exposure – meaning an eight-hour time weighted average. For coal mines, there is no separate standard for silica dust.

MSHA’s new standard would match the Occupational Safety and Health Administration standard adopted in 2016: for both MNM and coal mines, 50 micrograms per cubic meter for a full-shift exposure. If a miner’s exposure exceeds the limit, the final rule requires mine operators to take immediate corrective actions to come into compliance.

The rule also establishes an action level matching OSHA’s: 25 micrograms per cubic meter across a full shift. When miners’ exposures is above the proposed action level but below the permitted exposure limit of 50 micrograms, the proposed rule would require mine operators to conduct periodic sampling until miners’ exposures are below the action level.

The proposed rule also includes medical surveillance requirements for MNM miners, modeled on existing medical surveillance requirements for coal miners, and requiring companies to establish medical surveillance programs to provide periodic health examinations at no cost to miners.

Chris Williamson

Su said it is estimated that in central Appalachia, one in five long-tenured coal miners have black lung disease, seeing their life expectancy cut by 12 years. MSHA estimates teh rule wil save more than 1,000 lives and prevent severe illnesses in thousands more.

The rule, she said, will take effect for coal mines in April 2025 and for MNM mines in April 2026, in order to ensure operators have the tools to implement it correctly. MSHA has hired 270 inspectors to replace its depleted numbers and get them out into the field to enforce the rule.

Assistant Secretary for Mine Safety and Health Chris Williamson – who told those gathered that he worked in Morgantown for seven years – said that operators must keep their silica dust at the mandated level or lower. “There will be consequences for noncompliance.”

Those include citations, penalties, mandated immediate corrective actions and potential withdrawal orders to suspend operations if the operator fails to abate. MSHA is asking miners to report cheating.

MSHA stands prepared to work with everyone to successful implement the new rule, he said, and will offer compliance assistance.

“Silicosis and black lung disease are debilitating and deadly, but they are also entirely preventable,” he said. “We should all be able to agree that they should and can become relics of the past.”

Dave Dayton is the Mine Safety Committee chair at the Marion County Mine. He said, “This rule, to be honest with you, is long overdue. It’s something the mining industry has needed for years.”

And Gary Hairston. president of the Black Lung Association, said, “We’ve been fighting for years.”

He has black lung and has suffered with it for a long time. “I was 48 years old when I had to come out of the coal mines,” he said. “If you don’t know how that feels, that you can’t take care of your family.”

Cecil Roberts

He thanked the UMWA for its work to get this rule in place. He told the audience how digging up flowers used to take him 30 minutes and now it takes four hours as he struggles for breath. “I don’t want to see nobody in this kind of shape.”

Dr. David Weissman, director of NIOSH’s Division of Respiratory Disease Studies in Morgantown, talked about the “terrible human cost” of black lung. The new rule will provide miners protections similar to those that already exist for workers in other industries, he said.

“The mining industry is really critical to our nation, it’s an engine of prosperity for many,” he said. “This rule will be good for miners, it will be good for the mining industry too.”

UMWA President Cecil Roberts closed the ceremony, describing the decades-long fight to achieve this rule. For years and years, the industry denied black lung existed, and doctors supported those claims.

“What does this rule do,” he asked. “It’s not overly complicated. More people will be alive 10 years from now that there would have been if it wasn’t for what we’ve done fighting for this rule. We were on the right side of this. We were doing the Lord’s work here.”

He expects industry push-back, with companies saying they’re trying to shut the industry down. “No, we’re trying to save people’s lives.”

An MSHA fact sheet explains that respirable crystalline silica (silica dust) is an occupational carcinogen that puts workers at risk for developing preventable, severe diseases including: silicosis; non-malignant respiratory diseases (e.g., emphysema and chronic bronchitis); lung cancer; and kidney disease. Exposure to mixed coal mine dust containing silica dust can lead to the development of coal workers’ pneumoconiosis (black lung), progressive massive fibrosis, and multi-dust pneumoconiosis.

“Each of these illnesses is chronic, irreversible, and potentially disabling or fatal,” MSHA says.


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Manchin calls on HHS Secretary to fully implement Jessie’s Law

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) is wondering why the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has not fully implemented a law that requires HHS to give hospitals and medical professionals the best practices for a patient that provides their history of substance use disorder.

The law, known as Jessie’s Law, was included in the Substance Use-Disorder Prevention That Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment (SUPPORT) for Patients and Communities Act. It was signed into law by President Donald Trump in 2018. Since then, HHS has only partially responded to the directive.

Joe Manchin

“Now that the Department has finalized the rule on Confidentiality of Substance Use Disorder Patient Records, it’s time to fully implement Jessie’s Law,” said Manchin.

Jessie’s Law is named after Jessica Grubbs, a West Virginian who died in 2016 from substance use disorder after she was prescribed opioid pills following a hip surgery. Grubbs battled substance use disorder for seven years but was able to get sober for six months while living in Michigan.

Grubbs became a consistent runner and was training to run in a marathon, although she had to undergo surgery for a running related injury. Her parents were with her at the hospital and had told her doctors and hospital personnel that she was recovering from substance use disorder. The discharging doctor claimed he didn’t know Grubbs was recovering from substance use disorder and had sent her home with a prescription for 50 oxycodone pills following her surgery.

“Jessie’s death is particularly heartbreaking because it was 100 percent preventable,” Manchin said in 2016. “She should never have been given one, not one.”

Senator Manchin, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, asked Xavier Becerra, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, about that during their meeting Tuesday.

“When will you be releasing the best practices for displaying substance use disorder and patient records?” asked Manchin.

Becerra responded by saying there are still difficulties with HIPAA privacy laws. He said they are now working with providers to go over a newly-developed training module so that they understand how this law will work with privacy laws.

“We’re trying to tackle that HIPAA privacy hurdle so that it doesn’t become the reason the information isn’t fully there,” said Becerra. “We need providers to start understanding what the new rules are.”

However, Manchin said there shouldn’t be any more hurdles to try and get over. The law says a patient and the parent or guardian have to give permission to the doctors to obtain that information. According to him, the final step is on Becerra to implement the law.

“I would implore you to get your staff moving on this one,” Manchin told Becerra.

“We need the help of the providers to make sure their personnel are understanding the new rules,” Becerra said.

“Well I think the quicker you put them out, they quicker they’ll understand them,” Manchin said in response.

Last week, Manchin and U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) sent a letter to Secretary Becerra urging the full implementation of Jessie’s Law.

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14-year-old boy charged in Charleston murder transferred to adult status, tentative plea deal with prosecutors

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — One of two 14-year-old boys charged in connection with the Jan. 30 murder of a tobacco store clerk in North Charleston will be tried as an adult as part of a tentative plea deal with prosecutors.

Bre’jaun Williams-Hampton (WCHS-TV)

The case of Bre’jaun Williams-Hampton of Charleston was transferred to adult status in an order entered by Kanawha County Circuit Judge Maryclaire Akers follow a Tuesday hearing. It’s the first time his name has been released.

Williams-Hampton agreed that his case be transferred to adult status, was arraigned and waived his preliminary hearing. The case is expected to be taken up by a Kanawha County grand jury next month. A plea, connected to the robbery and murder charge, would come at some point after an indictment.

The terms of the tentative plea haven’t been released.

A note left on the door of the Tobacco & Pipe shop for victim Caden Martin. (Photo/WCHS-TV)

Charleston police allege Williams-Hampton and another 14-year-old boy, charged and in juvenile custody, went on a crime spree in late January that included the murder of Caden Martin, 19, of Dunbar.

Martin, who worked at Tobacco and Pipe on 7th Avenue, was gunned down during an armed robbery on Jan. 30. Charleston police charged Williams-Hampton a few hours after the shooting while charges against the other defendant came in late-February.

Court documents filed after Tuesday’s hearing said surveillance video shows Martin appears to have been complying with Williams-Hampton’s robbery demands. The video shows him putting vaping products into a backpack. A few moments later, the video shows Martin being shot twice.

Charleston police noticed the second juvenile acting as an apparent look-out outside the store. The two boys ran after the shooting, the court documents said.

Williams-Hampton was found later that evening at a residence on Hunt Avenue. Court documents said a relative of Martin, the murder victim, had confronted him there and police were called.

Police also charged Williams-Hampton and the other teenager with malicious wounding after the Jan. 21 shooting of Christina White on Woodward Drive. White, 44, was shot in the face as she was walking with her boyfriend.

The juveniles also face charges in a third violent crime. Charleston police charged them with first degree robbery in the armed holdup of a driver who was in a parking lot in the 300 block of Patrick Street on Jan. 24. Police said the boys robbed the man at gunpoint as he got out of his vehicle.

Williams-Hampton remains in custody in a state juvenile detention facility.

State law prohibits a 14-year-old to be sentenced to life in prison without parole if convicted of murder. The law does allow for life with mercy, meaning the defendant has a chance for parole after 15 years.

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Jenkins pitches and hits No. 2 Keyser past No. 4 Fairmont Senior, 2-1

FAIRMONT, W.Va. — Keyser senior Evan Jenkins produced nearly as many hits at the plate as he allowed in a complete game victory as the No. 2 Golden Tornado defeated regional rival No. 4 Fairmont Senior, 2-1.

Jenkins went 2-for-3 in the batters box and he tossed a 3-hitter as Keyser won their tenth consecutive game. Jenkins walked just one batter and struck out seven while tossing 94 pitches.

“He was having a little trouble with his curve ball and locating it until the end. Then he started dropping that in. But his main pitch is fastball and slider and he had pretty good control of that today,” said Keyser head coach Scott Rohrbaugh.

“In the offseason, he worked out a lot on his own. So he was ready to go on day one.”

The teams traded runs in the middle innings. Keyser broke a scoreless stalemate in the third inning when Josh Shoemaker scored on a wild pitch. Fairmont Senior evened the score in the bottom of the fourth. Dylan Ours drove an opposite field single to right field to send Brody Whitehair to the plate.

Keyser regained the lead in the sixth when Jenkins delivered his second hit of the game. His single to center sent Hunter Harr home with the eventual game-winning run.

“He can hit. He doesn’t go up there thinking. He just goes up there to see the ball and hit the ball. That’s why I have him batting in the six-hole.”

Jenkins retired the final six batters he faced to close out the game.

After dropping their season opener, last year’s Class AA state runners-up have won ten consecutive games.

“They grind things out and they never quit. If we get down a run, we keep fighting. These are good kids. They get along well and they are very coachable.”

Fairmont Senior and Keyser compete on opposite sides of Region I, meaning they could square off in the regional round if both teams win their sectionals.

“We see what they’ve got now. And of course they see what we’ve got. Now it is not so much a guessing game. We have a little more knowledge.”

Fairmont Senior (10-3) starting pitcher Hayden Jones allowed just one unearned run in five strong innings of work. He allowed four hits, walked one batter and struck out three.

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Clarksburg accused murderer dies in jail

CLARKSBURG, W.Va. — A suspect in a 2023 murder in Clarksburg has died in jail.

Ulices Pineda, 44, was an inmate at the North Central Regional Jail after being charged in a man’s death last summer.

Ulices Pineda (WVRJA)

Authorities said Pineda was found unresponsive in his cell last Thursday during a routine check. Staff began life-saving measures but could not revive him.

The death is under investigation.

Pineda was charged with first-degree murder and being a felon in possession of a firearm in June 2023 after allegedly shooting Clarksburg resident David Mazza in the back four times.

Detectives identified Pineda through surveillance that showed a confrontation between the two that caused Mazza to flee. Pineda can be seen firing several shots until Mazza falls to the ground. Pineda can then be seen walking up to Mazza and firing several more times.

Police found the murder weapon during a search of Pineda’s home.

Pineda could have been sentenced to life in prison if found guilty and denied mercy.

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WVU cruises to victory in Mountaineer Invitational; Kammann, Davenport top two finishers

BRIDGEPORT, W.Va. — Photo gallery from the final round of the Mountaineer Invitational at Pete Dye Golf Club. A strong Tuesday finish helped West Virginia coast to a team title at 18-under par after the Mountaineers were collectively 12-under in the final round. Marshall, at 10-over par, finished second. WVU sophomore Carson Kammann was first among individuals at 10-under par after firing a 5-under 67 in the third and final round. Mountaineer teammate Jackson Davenport, a senior, took second individually at 9-under par. Davenport also finished up with a 5-under 67.

Final results can be found here


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Justice and Mooney each have more than a million bucks to burn in U.S. Senate race

Gov. Jim Justice and Congressman Alex Mooney each have more than a million dollars cash on hand as their Republican primary race for U.S. Senate hits the stretch run, according to filings with the Federal Elections Commission.

Gov. Jim Justice

Through the end of last month, Justice’s campaign had $1,061,211.10, according to the filings that were updated after a deadline this week.

From the start of the campaign through March 31, the Justice effort has brought in $2,577,752.22 in contributions. The campaign has reported spending $1,516,541.12.

For the most recent filing period, Jan. 1 to March 31, Justice’s campaign brought in $404,948.15 and spent $586,065.41, according to the latest FEC report. 

A political action committee called “Defend American Jobs,” associated with cryptocurrency, has put up $3.2 million independently to help Justice, according to the federal filings. The organization has been a political player in races across the country. 

Mooney’s campaign has $1,294,772.78 on hand, according to the Federal Elections Commission filings.

Alex Mooney

Mooney’s campaign and associated committees, from the start of the race, reported bringing in $3,182,358.70 overall while spending $1,887,585.92.

In the most recent filing period, Jan. 1 to March 31, Mooney’s campaign brought in $315,977.57 and spent $828,533.25.

Club for Growth Action put down $2.1 million to oppose Justice and support Mooney.

West Virginia’s primary election is May 14. The early voting period for the primary election starts on Wednesday, May 1, and ends on Saturday, May 11.

Justice leads 66% to Mooney’s 24 percent, according to the latest MetroNews West Virginia Poll, sponsored by The Health Plan. The remainder of likely voters who were polled remained undecided or named some other candidate.

Justice and Mooney are vying for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Joe Manchin, a Democrat who decided not to run again. Because West Virginia has been trending more and more Republican, most political observers have already concluded that the winner of the Republican primary is a slam dunk to win.

Several Democrats are vying for that party’s nomination to U.S. Senate.

Marine Corps veteran Zach Shrewsbury has $50,959.17 for his campaign, according to the FEC.

Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott has $81,149.34 for his campaign.

A 2024 U.S. Senate campaign finance report isn’t readily apparent for Don Blankenship, a former coal executive who registered with the West Virginia Secretary of State to run as a Democrat even though he spent years supporting Republican candidates and conservative policies.

There is a federal record of a committee called “West Virginians to Elect Don.”

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Charleston Area Medical Center hosts 44th annual Research Day for residents, medical students

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A record 65 research presentations being given by medical residents and students at Charleston Area Medical Center, looking into common health conditions which affect West Virginia’s population.

They gathered at CAMC Center for Learning and Research in Kanawha City Tuesday for the medical center’s 44th annual Research Day, the first research day to be held at the new facility.

CAMC Center for Learning and Research

Fifty of the presenters Tuesday were either CAMC residents or fellows and 15 were medical students from the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine and WVU School of Medicine.

CAMC Director of the Center for Health Services and Outcomes, Elaine Davis Mattox said the day was consisting of either oral or poster presentations showcasing the research residents and students have conducted over the past year or longer that focused on the specific conditions in the state.

“We have studies involving treatment, studies that involve medical procedures and surgical procedures, and we have our case studies, which are unique and unusual cases that we have seen in West Virginia,” Mattox said.

The original research and case reports given in Tuesday’s presentations included overarching topics ranging from prenatal to geriatric care, as well as specific topics pertaining to diseases and conditions from cancer and urological disorders to substance abuse.

Mattox said one study of much interest that was presented was regarding three sisters in West Virginia who had developed Asbestos-related changes on their lungs.

She said they had been exposed to asbestos throughout their lives, which presents a very serious environmental health risk.

“Their father worked in the asbestos industry throughout his whole career and they recall him coming home covered in asbestos material, so all three of the women now in their later years have developed very serious problems related to it,” said Mattox.

Asbestos has been a very common risk in West Virginia after coal mining, power plants and chemical plants have supported the state’s economy for many decades, all of which have also been occupations linked to asbestos exposure.

Other presentations involved studies on breast cancer, which has been a particularly common disease for women in the state.

James Ferrick, a resident physician at CAMC said he would be presenting an oral presentation on breast cancer and risk factors associated with positive margins within breast cancer patients.

Ferrick told MetroNews that it’s a very significant topic of concern in West Virginia based on those positive margins of patients obtained by surgeons.

“It has been studied within several populations in the past, but not in a more focused population where the patients have more limited progression of their disease,” he said.

He said he and his team of researchers helping him complete the study were interested in seeing what could potentially result in those positive margins and be able to educate patients on the risk factors, as well as make sure they come for timely follow-ups so that they don’t experience poor outcomes later on.

Ferrick said overall, he believes their research on the issue went very well.

“We had some interesting results, somewhat unexpected in a couple of instances actually, and some things confirmed what prior studies had found, as well, but I think this will be very important for breast cancer patients,” said Ferrick.

According to the West Virginia Department of Health, breast cancer makes up nearly 25% of all female cancers. While the majority of it is found in women, it can be found in men, as well.

Mattox said the focus behind the research is to improve the health of all West Virginians.

She said many of these studies will go on to have national attention, with some to get published in nationally-recognized medical journals.

However, Mattox said while the research conducted here gets national attention, they also like to recognize the work locally, as well, which she said is essentially why the research day was started back in 1980.

“So that the people who are here, the people employed by CAMC, who are faculty members, who are members of our research team, can hear all of the presentations and be aware of what’s going on in terms of research here,” she said. “We like people to know we do a lot of things.”

Mattox said all of the presentations that were on electronic posters will be available on CAMCs website for the public to view.

Awards were going to be given out for the most interesting presentations at the end of the day.

This year, the research day saw a record number of submissions at a total of 65.

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Weirton tin mill workers interview for new jobs at WorkForce West Virginia job fair

WEIRTON, W.Va. — Tin mill workers, set to lose their jobs at the end of the week when the Weirton-based Cleveland Cliffs operation closes, attended a resource and job fair Tuesday in Weirton put together by WorkForce West Virginia.

“We want to let them know there are employers out there looking for qualified applicants,” WorkForce Director of Employment Services Maureen Persons told MetroNews.

There were 19 employers on hand, many of them offering manufacturing jobs. The list included Nucor Steel and Form Energy.

“All of them have available jobs for qualified applicants,” Persons said.

The tin mill is scheduled to idle this Saturday after word of the plant’s closing came in late February, as many as 900 employees are losing their jobs. Persons said more than 200 workers showed up Tuesday.

The plant in Weirton got caught up in the unforgiving churn of the international market economy. The company cited an earlier unanimous decision issued by the International Trade Commission negating the implementation of anti-dumping and countervailing duties on tin mill products calculated by the Department of Commerce.

Cleveland Cliffs is the largest flat-rolled steel producer in North America. The tin produced in Weirton has been used for canning products.

Persons said there are a lot of emotions tied up with losing your job. She said WorkForce West Virginia’s goal is to help during the transition.

“It’s very difficult when the layoffs occur and people are overwhelmed, so we try not to overwhelm them but we give them a push in the right direction,” Persons said.

WorkForce West Virginia also staffed a resource fair to coincide with the job fair. Workers learned of services offered and opportunities for retraining or education.

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Protected: Addressing the Changing Landscape of Special Education Amid a National Teacher Shortage

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