Monday, May 22, 2006

No Stopping It

Again. Five this time.

The coal mines have not seen a worse sequence of three like Sago (12 dead) -- Alma (2 dead) -- and now Darby (5) since the winter of 1981-2 when three explosions killed 28 in 2 months.

This one happened in the wee hours and was over by morning, and "a horse's broken leg gets more media attention" comments "Angry Kentuckian."

Deja vu in another way too:

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: "[Former MSHA and Kentucky state official] Tony] Oppegard said a MSHA official told him the blast may have occurred behind a sealed-off portion of the mine, as happened at Sago....

"Also as with Sago, the explosion apparently obliterated a seal inside the mine constructed with Omega blocks, a concrete and fiber composite material that is lighter than the traditional concrete blocks, Mr. Oppegard said."

At the Sago public hearings earlier this month, a lot of questions focused on the "Omega block" stopping that was supposed to keep methane out of active workings but was just about vaporized by the explosion. MSHA said that simulation tests would go on all summer to figure out what happened. Federal officials were waiting for that analysis before making at any policy changes.

Today, they have changed their tune.

Mine Safety and Health News notified subscribers by e-mail: "MSHA announced today that the agency will begin a reassessment of the structural integrity of existing alternative seals and will require testing of the atmosphere behind the seals. For those alternative seals with structural issues in which the atmosphere behind them is potentially explosive, MSHA officials will require additional precautions to protect miners. MSHA also announced a moratorium on new construction of alternative seals under the 1992 MSHA standard, and district managers have been ordered not to approve requests to construct alternative seals in underground coal mines."

Sadly, "Kentucky legislators, responding to the deadly accidents at mines across the country, including January’s disaster that killed 12 miners at the Sago Mine in West Virginia, passed a measure requiring mines to store breathing devices underground, and to set up lifelines to help miners find their way out. But the law doesn’t take effect until July." (Charleston Gazette)

Especially wrenching was read a comment in the Herald-Leader by a former miner and local minister: "...I guess we have to learn to live with it. There ain't nothing we can do about it, but it's so sad when it happens."

About what already happened, that's true. But something can be done to make a different future.

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