August 5, 2008

Advocates Urge Action on Mine Refuge Chambers

LEXINGTON, Ky. _ Up to 14 miners could have survived if airtight emergency refuge chambers had been available in two coal mine disasters in Kentucky and West Virginia two years ago, a lawyer testified at a Mine Safety and Health Administration hearing in Lexington on Tuesday.

Attorney Tony Oppegard, representing families of five miners lost in the 2006 Darby LLC Mine explosion in Harlan County, urged MSHA officials to adopt a proposed rule calling for placing the rescue chambers in all underground mines.

In addition to the five miners who died in Harlan County in 2006, 19 more died the same year in an explosion at West Virginia's Sago Mine. Many of those lost in both disasters died of carbon monoxide poisoning after being trapped by the explosions _ miners that Oppegard said could have survived if underground chambers had been available for them to take shelter.

Tracey North, whose father, Paris Thomas, was among those killed in the Darby Mine, also urged MSHA officials to move ahead with the proposed chambers.

"I hope this goes through ... for other miners, so their families don't have to experience the loss we have," she said.

Paul Ledford, the one person who made it out of the Darby Mine alive, also testified, urging MSHA officials to drop a proposal under which miners essentially would be expected to build their own shelter after an explosion, using materials placed in the mine for that purpose.

Ledford said a mine would be filled with blinding dust and potentially deadly carbon monoxide gas after an explosion, essentially making it impossible to construct a shelter even if materials were available.

The hearing is the third in a series that MSHA is holding to gather comment on its proposed shelter chamber rules. Several parts of the proposed regulation came under fire at a hearing in Charleston, W.Va. last month

Tuesday, Kentucky Coal Association President Bill Caylor questioned some aspects of the proposal, contending they are based on technology that has not been perfected.


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