MAC: Mines and Communities

US Update

Published by MAC on 2006-05-25

US Update

25th May 2006

Yet another disaster exemplifies the unacceptable lack of regulation of USA coal pits. It struck a mine in Harlan County, Kentucky - site of historic battles in 1931-32, and again in the 1970s, between mineowners and workers demanding basic rights.

According to the watchdog on Office Policy Management and Budget (OPMB) a "giant stride" has just been taken to preserve the US public's right to know about toxic pollution with the passage of a House amendment that " protects public health and safety by preventing the EPA from rolling back reporting requirements to the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) program."

MSHA Names Team to Investigate Darby Mine No. 1 Accident

Mine Safety and Health Administration News Release

25th May 2006

ARLINGTON, Va.— The U.S. Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) today announced the appointment of a team to investigate the explosion at the Darby Mine No. 1 in Harlan County, Ky. Five miners died following the explosion at the mine on May 20.

"MSHA's investigation will fully examine all the evidence to find the cause of the explosion at the Darby Mine No. 1 and any violations of safety and health standards," said David G. Dye, MSHA acting administrator. "We will conduct a thorough investigation to ensure that we find the root cause of this accident. We want to help prevent similar accidents in the future. We also intend to coordinate our investigation closely with the commonwealth of Kentucky."

An independent team of MSHA mine-safety professionals with nationwide experience will evaluate all aspects of the accident, including potential causes and compliance with federal health and safety standards. The team will examine the accident site, interview mine personnel and others with relevant information, review records and plans and inspect any mining equipment involved at the mine. MSHA will issue a formal report summarizing the findings and conclusions of the investigative team, identifying root causes of the accident and how the incident unfolded. Any contributing violations of federal mine safety standards that existed will be cited at the investigation's conclusion.

Dye announced on Monday that Thomas Light will head MSHA's investigative team for the Darby Mine No. 1 accident. Light is assistant district manager of MSHA's district 2 in New Stanton, Pa.

Other team members and their specializations include the following: Anthony Guley, enforcement and compliance; Mark Odum, ventilation and roof control; Robert Bates, electrical systems; James Bowman, special investigations; Gerald Cook, enforcement; and Mark Schroeder and Charles Campbell, both with specialization in ventilation and mine gasses. All members of MSHA's investigation team are from outside the region of the Darby Mine No. l location.

Since the initial hours of the incident, MSHA personnel have maintained a constant presence at the mine site, accompanying mine-rescue teams underground, providing technical assistance, monitoring ongoing conditions at the mine and keeping the victims' families informed of any progress.

Underground Blast Kills 5 Kentucky Miners

By SAMIRA JAFARI, Associated Press Writer

21st May 2006

HOLMES MILL, Ky. (AP) - An underground explosion in an eastern Kentucky coal mine killed five miners early Saturday, while a sixth miner walked away from the blast that sprayed an office building with rock and mud 100 yards outside the tunnel's entrance, Gov. Ernie Fletcher said. The cause of the blast at the Darby Mine No. 1 in Harlan County was not immediately known. But Fletcher, who quickly flew to the scene, said preliminary evidence suggested methane may have leaked from a sealed-off portion of the mine, mixed with oxygen and then something caused it to ignite.

It was the deadliest mining incident in Kentucky since 1989, when 10 miners died in a western Kentucky mine blast, state officials said. The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration said that the five deaths Saturday raised the national death toll from coal mining accidents to 31 this year, with 10 of the deaths in Kentucky.

The miners, who were part of a maintenance shift on duty when the blast occurred about 1 a.m. EDT, were found about 3,000 feet into the mine, said Ray McKinney, MSHA's administrator for coal mine safety and health. The governor said some of the dead miners had donned breathing devices after the explosion and tried to climb to safety. Federal investigators said four of the victims were found close together but could not confirm whether they had used breathing devices.

The only survivor, Paul Ledford, was closer to the mine's exit than his co-workers who were killed, Fletcher said. He was about 15 feet from the mine's exit when he came across rescuers on their way in to search, officials said.

Ledford was treated at Lonesome Pine Hospital in Big Stone Gap, Va., and released.

Jeff Ledford said his brother sustained burns to his face and chest and has blisters.

``He's destroyed,'' said Jeff Ledford, added it was not clear how much his brother remembered about the explosion. ``I've had to holler at him because he's staring off to space.''

The governor said he had contacted the families of the killed workers. ``They want answers - how, why, what caused it - that will help them deal with it a little more,'' Fletcher said.

Relatives of the miners had gathered before dawn at the nearby Cloverfork Missionary Baptist Church to await word about their loved ones. State and federal mine officials informed the family members of the deaths, said Mike Blair, the church's pastor.

``There's just a lot of heartbroken people,'' he said.

Authorities identified the victims as Amon Brock, 51, of Closplint; Jimmy D. Lee, 33, of Wallins Creek; Roy Middleton, 35, of Evarts; George William Petra, 49, of Kenvir; and Paris Thomas Jr., 53, also of Evarts.

Coroner Philip Bianchi said autopsy results could be available as early as Sunday night.

Mary Middleton said her husband had been working in the mines since he was 18.

``He thought about coming out of the mines but we have two kids,'' she said. ``It was a job to make a living.''

Denise Bean, stepdaughter of Brock, said he came from a family of miners. ``Mining is all he's ever done,'' she said. ``It was his life.''

It was not clear how many workers were on duty when the blast occurred, but officials said no production was going on at the time.

The underground mine, operated by Kentucky Darby LLC, is located about 250 miles southeast of Louisville in a mountainous area near the Virginia border. A man who answered the phone at a Kentucky Darby office declined to comment Saturday, saying the company was too busy. Later, a man identifying himself as a foreman also declined comment.

Since Kentucky Darby took over as operator in May 2001, there had been 10 injuries and no deaths at the mine until Saturday's explosion, according to statistics on MSHA's Web site.

The mine, which employed 34 people and averaged about 220,000 tons of coal per year, goes about 11,300 feet deep. MSHA had been in the process of doing a regular inspection of the mine.

The last state inspection performed at the Kentucky Darby mine was on April 28, Fletcher said. He said two safety violations were discovered: A battery charger was not properly ventilated and a high-voltage cable was not guarded.

United Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts urged state and federal mine officials to ``redouble their inspection and enforcement activities, starting now.''

``This tragedy only compounds what has already been a horrific year in America's coal mines,'' Roberts said in a statement. According to a 2004 report by the Kentucky Office of Mine Safety and Licensing, there were 608 coal mines in the state, including 296 underground mines.

Major Victory for TRI

OPMB Watch

23rd May 2006

As everyone knows, we have been in a long battle with EPA over their proposed rollbacks to the Toxic Release Inventory (TRI). Today, the House of Representatives made a giant stride in the effort to preserve the public's right to know about toxic pollution. The House passed the Pallone-Solis Toxic Right-To-Know Amendment to the Interior Appropriations ill by a wide margin of 231 to 187. The amendment protects public health and safety by preventing the EPA from rolling back reporting requirements to the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) program.

The vote saw 48 Republicans cross the line to vote with 183 Democrats in supporting the amendment. 172 Republicans and 15 Democrats voted against the amendment.

The day saw many ups and downs. After Chairman Charles Taylor offered his support of the Pallone-Solis Toxic Right-to-Know amendment, a strong opposition was made from Congressmen Tiahrt and Pence. Congressman Tiahrt argued that small businesses need relief from reporting toxic pollution under TRI, but his statements were riddled with incorrect and misleading claims. The National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) had clearly launched a last minute campaign to kill the amendment.

OMB Watch along with US PIRG, LCV and many other groups around the country including public health officials, state agencies, emergency responders, workers, environmentalists, and American citizens all rallied hard throughout the day to support the amendment. They called offices to inform them that small businesses are completely exempt from reporting and that this was just another attempt by the radical right to prioritize business interests over the public health and safety.

Thankfully, in the end, the House saw this vote for what it was < an opportunity to protect the public¹s right to know and to stand up against the irresponsible planning by EPA.

We want to thank everyone for all your support and efforts to protect the Toxics Release Inventory. We may have additional fights ahead of us in the Senate and with the EPA, but we can mark today as a victory.

Sean Moulton
Director, Federal Information Policy
OMB Watch
1742 Connecticut Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20009
Phone: (202) 234-8494
Fax: (202) 234-8584

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