Monday, September 27, 2010

Meters to help prevent coal dust explosions are still not required

The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration likely faces a legal battle about coal dust samples collected at Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch mine, but that challenge could have been avoided if the agency had mandated better monitoring as some urged. "Over the years, experts from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the now-defunct Bureau of Mines repeatedly urged the mining industry" to install "special meters that would allow real-time monitoring of coal-dust conditions in underground mines across the country," Ken Ward Jr. of The Charleston Gazette reports.

MSHA investigators blamed a 2001 mine disaster that killed 13 miners in Alabama on Jim Walters Resources' failure to "apply enough 'rock dust' to control explosive coal dust that can build up underground," Ward writes. The company successfully appealed the ruling when a federal judge ruled the agency's "dust samples -- gathered after the explosion -- didn't accurately reflect conditions at the time of the blast," Ward writes. Now Massey is making similar arguments about the UBB April explosion that killed 29 West Virginia miners.

In a 1989 report, the Bureau of Mines said dust meters were among "the most promising methods" for helping prevent coal dust explosions, but as of now the U.S. still doesn't require their use. A bill before Congress would mandate coal mines to use the meters but would prevent MSHA from basing enforcement on them for at least two years while they undergo further study, Ward writes. At UBB, MSHA took rock dust samples on March 13 but didn't cite Massey for inadequate rock-dusting until April 13, after the explosion, due in part to the time involved in analysis, Ward writes. "Why in the world are we sending samples away for weeks' time in this day and age?" longtime mine safety chief Davitt McAteer, who headed MSHA during the Clinton administration, asked Ward. "It hampers enforcement and it hampers the prevention cycle." (Read more)

No comments: