Coal company, dust examiner sentenced for reportedly submitting false coal dust sampling

Weekday broadcast of WYMT Mountain News This Morning, 5 a.m. Hour
Published: Jun. 8, 2023 at 5:32 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 9, 2023 at 8:07 AM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

PIKEVILLE, Ky. (WYMT) - Black Diamond Coal Company, LLC and Walter Perkins, a certified dust examiner, were sentenced Thursday for violating the Mine Safety and Health Administration’s (MSHA) regulations.

The regulations require accurate respirable coal dust sampling in underground coal mines.

Officials said Black Diamond Coal Company, LLC was sentenced for submitting false samples and Perkins was sentenced for lying to MSHA special investigators.

In 2020, court documents said Black Diamond Coal submitted dust sampling results to MSHA on October 6 and October 7 for its required quarterly sampling.

The results were abnormally low and led to an investigation from the MSHA Barbourville District Office.

On October 8, 2020, inspectors and investigators said they visited the Black Diamond Number 1 mine in Floyd County. At the mine, they said they found the company’s continuous personal dust monitor (CPDM) running on the floor in a first aid trailer.

However, officials said the CPDM should be worn by an underground miner during a normal shift to accurately sample the coal dust.

A forensic analysis of the CPDM confirmed it had not moved in days, despite earlier dust samples submitted by Black Diamond.

Walter Perkins, 45, was employed by Black Diamond and was certified by MSHA as a dust examiner. Officials said Perkins was trained by MSHA on how to properly conduct the required dust sampling.

When asked about the improper use of the CPDM, Perkins reportedly claimed he gave the CPDM to a miner, but the miner gave it back because it stopped working. However, Perkins later admitted he never gave the CPDM to the miner.

“Enforcement of mandatory health standards is a top priority for me and this Administration,” said Assistant Secretary for Mine Safety and Health Chris Williamson. “The Mine Safety and Health Administration can only protect miners from the risk of developing black lung disease if it has accurate sampling results. Given the troubling spike in black lung cases in Appalachia, we must hold accountable those who choose not to comply with the law and put miners’ health and lives at risk.”

Black Diamond was fined $200,000 and sentenced to two years of probation. Black Diamond was also ordered to pay restitution of $400 to any miner who is no longer employed in the mining industry because they no longer have access to free black lung screenings. Officials said this restitution is the first of its kind.

“Mine operators bear the responsibility for the safety and health of the miners they employ, and when operators avoid their legal obligation, the U.S. Department of Labor will use its enforcement powers to hold them accountable,” said Solicitor of Labor Seema Nanda. “We thank the United States Attorney’s Office for partnering with us to enforce critical health regulations designed to prevent black lung.”

Perkins, of Harlan County, was sentenced to a 12-month split sentence. Officials said six months will be served in prison and six months will be served in home detention. One year of supervised release will follow the 12-month sentencing.

“The purpose of these safety regulations is to prevent a progressive and irreversible disease,” said Carlton S. Shier, IV, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Kentucky. “If employers falsify the dust sampling, not only are they are violating the law they are dramatically reducing the safety of their employees. That is simply unacceptable, and compelled us to prosecute this case.”