Feds Requiriing Coal Mine Airtight Refuge Chambers

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration has taken a stab at requiring airtight emergency refuges in the nation's 624 underground coal mines.

Mine operators can either store building materials underground, build airtight rooms, or place prefabricated refuges in the mines under rules proposed by the agency Friday. All would have to provide enough air, water and other necessities to keep miners alive at least four days while they await rescue. The nation has about 42,200 underground coal miners.

The proposal would put into regulation actions required of operators since last year when MSHA ordered companies to provide at least 96 hours of breathable emergency air supplies.

"While miners must continue to follow their first instinct - which is to withdraw from the mine in the event of an emergency - this proposed regulation calls for a protected, secure space that creates a life-sustaining environment when escape is not possible," MSHA director Richard Stickler said in a prepared statement.

The proposal is required by federal legislation passed after high-profile accidents in 2006 that killed 19 miners, including 12 at West Virginia's Sago Mine. The agency hopes to issue final rules by the end of 2008.

MSHA estimates it would cost the coal industry between $84.1 million and $102.6 million in the first year and between $38.7 million and $43.3 million a year after that.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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