I examine the dismissal of coal mine dust as a mere nuisance, not a potentially serious threat to extractive workers who inhaled it. In the 1930s, the US Public Health Service played a major role in conceptualizing coal mine dust as virtually harmless. Dissent from this position by some federal officials failed to dislodge either that view or the recommendation of minimal limitations on workplace exposure that flowed from it. Privatization of regulatory authority after 1940 ensured that miners would lack protection against respiratory disease. The reform effort that overturned the established misunderstanding in the late 1960s critically depended upon both the production of scientific findings and the emergence of a subaltern movement in the coalfields. This episode illuminates the steep challenges often facing advocates of stronger workplace health standards.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health