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MSHA forces 6 Ky. mines to close during blitz

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - Hundreds of serious violations were
discovered at 57 troubled U.S. coal mines during surprise
inspections days after the nation's worst coal mining disaster in
40 years, federal regulators said Thursday.
Six small Kentucky operations had so many problems that
inspectors forced them to close, the U.S. Mine Safety and Health
Administration said. The secretary of labor later sued Manalapan
Mining, Left Fork Mining and three officials of related companies
for allegedly interfering with inspectors by tipping off workers
that they'd arrived.
MSHA director Joe Main called the results "appalling."
"At the very least, they have failed to conduct their own mine
examinations for hazards," Main said. "Mine operators have a
responsibility to provide for the safety and health of the miners
they employ, and too many of the mines we inspected are failing to
take that responsibility seriously."
MSHA wants a court order barring the defendants from interfering
with inspectors. The defendants deny the allegations, court records
show. Manalapan President Benjamin Bennett did not immediately
return a call to The Associated Press. A hearing is set May 14 in
federal court.
Two of the six Kentucky mines remain closed, MSHA said. Working
numbers for operators Conshor Mining and Red Bird Coal could not be
found in multiple directories. Manalapan and Left Fork addressed
dozens of violations and resumed production.
The six Kentucky mines were cited for 238 total violations and
given 55 orders for miners to leave at least portions of mines
while safety violations were being repaired. Overall, MSHA said it
issued 1,339 citations nationwide during the five-day blitz from
April 19 to 23.
MSHA launched the blitz in response to the April 5 explosion
that killed 29 men and injured two at Virginia-based Massey Energy
Co.'s Upper Big Branch mine in southern West Virginia. Another 44
workers escaped unharmed, according to MSHA's preliminary report,
which classifies the disaster as an ignition or explosion of gas or
dust.
The agency focused the blitz on mines with high numbers of
violations in the past and focused on rules covering methane,
ventilation and efforts to control coal dust.
Inspectors found more than 70 serious violations at eight Massey
operations in West Virginia, Kentucky and Virginia that were
inspected during the blitz, MSHA said. The Richmond, Va.-based
company's safety record has been under renewed scrutiny after the
Upper Big Branch explosion. The incident remains the subject of
federal and state investigations.
Massey did not immediately respond to requests for comment, but
has defended its record and denied repeatedly charges that the
company puts profits ahead of safety.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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