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1st part of federal coal dust rule aimed at combating black lung disease takes effect Friday

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. - The Obama administration's push to reduce black lung disease by limiting coal dust in mines will begin to take effect on Friday.

The U.S. Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration coal dust rule will be phased in, with requirements including increased dust sampling in mines and citations when coal operators don't take immediate action for high levels.

In February 2016, better monitoring equipment will be required. In August 2016, the allowable concentration of coal dust will drop.

Ohio-based Murray Energy and the National Mining Association sued separately over the rule, which was finalized in April.

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, black lung has killed more than 76,000 miners since 1968.

It is an irreversible and potentially deadly disease caused by coal dust exposure, where particles accumulate in the lungs.

"I believe it's time for the industry to come to terms that we need to rid the industry of this disease," said Joe Main, assistant secretary of labour for Mine Safety and Health, in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "It is preventable, but not curable. And it's putting these measures in place on a daily basis to make sure these miners have these protections so they can spend their working career free of the disease and retire like anyone else."

The National Mining Association has called the rule a "one-size-fits-all approach that fails to reflect the constructive suggestions from representatives of industry and labour."

The federal government says that miners, including young ones, continue to be diagnosed with black lung disease. Last month, the Labor Department's Office of Workers' Compensation Programs said it expects more than 7,400 claims to be filed this year because of the disease.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat, said in a statement Thursday that while the rule represented a major step toward halting black lung disease, it's too early to claim victory.

"Limiting dust exposure is just one part of this fight," he said. "Just as important is providing health care and financial support for those who are already afflicted with black lung."

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Frommer reported from Washington, D.C.

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