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Army Corps of Engineers report on Sago explosion forces reaffirms need for stronger, explosion-proof seals

December 9, 2007


DECEMBER 9, 2007

CONTACT:        Phil Smith

Army Corps of Engineers report on Sago explosion forces reaffirms need for stronger, explosion-proof seals, UMWA’s Roberts says.

Long-term secrecy of report by MSHA “extremely troubling.”

United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) International President Cecil E. Roberts issued the following statement today:

    “The revelation in today’s Charleston Gazette-Mail that a buried U.S. Army Corps of Engineers report indicates that the forces of the explosion at the Sago disaster could have been up to 629 pounds per square inch (psi)–sends a clear and unequivocal message that every seal in every coal mine in America must be immediately evaluated to determine if it will stand up to these kinds of extreme and deadly forces.

    “The UMWA has long called for the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) to develop regulations that live up to the intent of Congress when the Mine Safety and Health Act was passed in 1969–namely, that ‘explosion-proof’ seals be the norm in every coal mine. MSHA has never seen fit to comply with this despite Congress’ mandate. But now, in the face of such clear evidence of its failure to protect America’s coal miners, MSHA must see the light and take swift action.

    “In our report on the Sago Disaster issued last March, the UMWA said that, ‘The pressures that struck the seals from the blast at the Sago mine, though yet undetermined, were in excess of what investigators had witnessed at other similar events.’ We called for MSHA to implement the recommendation of the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), which called for  building seals that could withstand forces of 640 psi. The Corps of Engineers report demonstrates that 640 psi is perhaps a minimum standard, not a maximum one.

    “I was astounded to read in today’s news report that an MSHA spokesperson downplayed the Corps of Engineers report by saying it was based on ‘worst-case scenarios.’ This clearly indicates that MSHA is not planning for the ‘worst-case’ when developing rules and regulations that will keep miners alive when something goes wrong underground.

    “This is the first time I’ve seen such an admission made publicly. It confirms what we’ve known for years and explains exactly why miners are still dying nearly 40 years after the passage of the Mine Safety and Health Act. ‘Worst-case’ scenarios happen all the time in coal mines, yet MSHA isn’t bothering to account for them. That is a shocking admission from the agency that is charged with protecting America’s miners.

    “From the news account, it is unclear why this important and revealing report by the Corps of Engineers has been held secret until now. Whatever the reason, it is extremely troubling that an agency of the United States government that is charged with protecting the health and safety of workers would withhold information that is so critically important to keeping those workers from injury. I am glad Assistant Secretary Stickler has finally released the report, but it is seven months too late.

    “I call on the Justice Department to immediately begin an investigation into what happened at MSHA and why this report was withheld. National security is certainly not at stake here, but coal miners’ lives are. American coal miners are citizens of this nation who risk their lives every day to provide the energy that drives the American economy. They must no longer be ignored–indeed, put at risk–by their own government.”

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