Thursday, May 15, 2014

Environmental News Notes 3

I have been rather avoiding this one, but here goes ...

1) Two miners were trapped and died at the Brody Mine #1 in Boone County, West Virginia on Monday. The mine was designated as a pattern violator by the MSHA, meaning it had repeatedly broken federal health and safety regulations in the previous year. The mine was being prepared for abandonment and the workers were engaged in the dangerous practice of removing the supporting pillars, usually 60 - 80 square feet, which are the last coal in the section of the mine. The company said that the miners died in a "severe coal burst" - which basically means that the weight from the roof got shifted to pillars that were too weak to support it, resulting in a catastrophic collapse.  You can read more at the New York Times.

Photo from the NY Times (Source)
This follows on a report released last week by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) which summarized the U.S. mining deaths which occurred during the first quarter of 2014. From Jan. 1 to March 31, eight miners died in accidents in the U.S. mining industry - three were killed in coal mining accidents and five in metal and nonmetal mining accidents. There were 15 deaths in the previous quarter.

2) Of course, this pales in comparison to what happened in Soma, Turkey, where more than 250 people were killed in a coal mine explosion. The explosion occurred during a subsurface shift change when more than 700 workers were underground. The explosion started a fire that cut off electricity to the mine, rendering the elevator useless and trapping hundreds of miners approximately a mile beneath the surface. As of now, they are still pulling out bodies so the death count will continue to climb. Roughly 450 miners were rescued, but about 150 others miners are still unaccounted for. As far as I can tell the majority of the deaths have been due to carbon monoxide poisoning. 

Photo from Ruters via (Source)
And as bad as Turkey is - this incident is the worst mining disaster in Turkish history, but according to an article in the New Yorker, there have been at least thirteen “major” mining accidents in Turkey since 1983, most due to methane explosions. Last year alone, thirteen thousand miners reportedly suffered workplace accidents and there have been some 3,000 deaths since 1941 - China is even worse. The MSHA reports that there are around 1,000 coal mining related deaths there each year.

3) They still don't know what caused the radiation release at the WIPP site, but they confirmed last week they "discovered that some of the large magnesium oxide bags that are placed on top of waste disposal containers during disposal were damaged. The magnesium oxide in the 3,000 - 4,200 pound bags acts as a barrier, helping to prevent the radioactive material from being releasing into the environment" 

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