Coal Mine Catastrophe: Could it Have Been Prevented?

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Sadness, regret and accusations followed the mining catastrophe that occurred in West Virginia at a Massey Energy Company mine on April 5, 2010. Out of the 31 miners that were working in the area at the time of the blast, only twenty-five bodies were found, and none of them survived. The tragedy sparked a strenuous search to rescue the remaining six miners in hopes that they are alive, although chances are slim as a week has passed and no bodies have emerged. The rescue workers promised the families of the deceased that they would get into the chambers within the 96 hours following the explosion. Due to the extremely dangerous mix of gases found in the chambers, the rescue workers were unable to complete this mission.

Unfortunately, this is not the first explosion that the Massey Energy Company has experienced. In January of 2006 in a Massey mine at a different location, a conveyor belt lit on fire and resulted in the death of two workers. Although the mining business is well known for being a dangerous profession, the Massey Energy Company has repeatedly been cited and warned for severe violations. Before the recent blast at the West Virginia location, the site received a citation for lacking updated escape route maps above ground. In addition, on January 7th this West Virginia mine was issued two more citations by federal regulators because the system responsible for pulling clean air inside the mine was pushing air in the wrong direction. The Massey Energy Company has received many other safety citations and violations. This knowledge angers the families of the deceased miners because they believe the deaths of over 25 people could have been prevented.

The families were not alone in their anger and resolve to determine why this tragedy occurred, as Governor Manchin of West Virginia also expressed troubled feelings. Manchin asserted his concerns about the many reports filed before the explosion on the high methane levels in the Massey Energy Company mine. In general, all mines are required to facilitate air-quality sensors programmed to shut machines off when the levels of methane reach a high point. Manchin, along with the families of the deceased miners, are confused as to why the sensors failed to go off before the Massey explosion.

Rescue workers are still trying to identify the cause of the explosion, but they have hypothesized that it occurred in the active sections of the mine rather than the abandoned areas. This information implies not only that this specific mine suffered from methane problems, but that it also had extremely harmful levels of coal dust the miners inhaled on a daily basis. Lawmakers in West Virginia are holding hearings next week to discuss exactly what happened and what they can do to improve the safety regulations.

In 2006, Congress issued new federal regulations focusing on creating safe workplaces in mines nationwide. These new laws required every mine to provide emergency breathing devices and rescue chambers in hopes that they would help mines avoid explosions and fires. Companies in charge of mines were also required to employ more mine rescue teams in case of an emergency such as an explosion.

Federal mining data uncovers the harsh truth that only one out of ten underground mines across the United States have met the law’s safety requirements in order to operate— tragically, the Massey Mine did not meet the safety requirements. Hopefully, the catastrophe that stripped 25 miners from their friends and families will serve as a symbol for the desperate need for employing all the safety regulations in every mine nationwide.

 

For more information on the mining disaster, please see the following articles:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/07/opinion/07wed2.html?scp=1&sq=mining&st=cse" http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/07/opinion/07wed2.html?scp=1&sq=mining&st=cse

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/08/us/08westvirginia.html?scp=1&sq=massey%20mine&st=cse

 

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