Coal official allegedly cheated on safety tests, putting miners at risk of black lung
LEXINGTON, Ky. — A coal company manager took part in cheating on tests designed to protect miners from contracting deadly black lung disease, a federal grand jury has charged.
The grand jury issued a new indictment adding Glendal “Buddy” Hardison to a group of mine officials charged with conspiring to break dust-sampling rules at two underground mines in Western Kentucky operated by Armstrong Coal Co.
Hardison, 69, was the manager of all of Armstrong’s mines in Western Kentucky, according to a news release from U.S. Attorney Russell M. Coleman in Louisville.
A grand jury previously indicted eight other Armstrong managers on the conspiracy charge.
The nine allegedly took various actions to hide the amount of dust exposure among miners at Armstrong’s Parkway mine in Muhlenberg County and its Kronos mine in Ohio County.
Coal companies use machines to claw out coal in underground mines, producing dust from ground up coal and rock.
Breathing the dust is the cause of black lung and silicosis, lung disorders that choke off a person’s ability to breathe.
Federal rules require companies to take measures to hold down dust and to test the level of dust — such as using ventilation to clear the air — and to test the level of dust to measure miners’ exposure.
Hardison and other managers at the two Armstrong Coal mines allegedly used various tactics to cheat on dust sampling.
Those included putting dust monitors in clean air elsewhere in the mine rather than at the working face; having miners in the dustiest areas not wear monitors; certifying that miners had worn dust monitors for longer shifts than they actually did, making the exposure appear lower; and fabricating sampling results.
Hardison met with two other officials at one point and ordered them to do whatever it took to “make the pumps come in,” meaning to make sure dust monitors showed compliance with limits on dust exposure to miners, the indictment charged.
Cheating on dust sampling allowed Armstrong to avoid using dust-control measures that might have cost money, but that exposed miners to increased risk, the indictment charged.
Coleman said in a news release that federal authorities will work diligently to “hold accountable those who made calculated business decisions that placed our miners at grave risk.”
The others charged in the case are Charley Barber, Brian Keith Casebier, Steven Demoss, Billie Hearld, Ron Ivy, John Ellis Scott, Dwight Fulkerson and Jeremy Hackney.
All those charged had supervisory duties or worked in the safety departments at the mines.
They have pleaded not guilty.
Armstrong Coal, which is an unindicted co-conspirator in the case, declared bankruptcy after the period covered in the charges, which is January 2013 to August 2015.
Coleman said the Kronos mine is still open under a different owner, but the Parkway mine is closed.