Federal tests show more problems with air packs

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - The brand of air pack used by miners
during the Sago Mine disaster is prone to have damaged air hoses
and can make it difficult for miners to breathe, according to a
federal report obtained by The Associated Press.
The air packs made by Pennsylvania-based CSE Corp. have been
under scrutiny since the January explosion, because miners who
carried the packs died of carbon monoxide poisoning and the lone
survivor has said some of his crew's packs failed.
The report by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and
Health suggests problems with the air packs are getting worse, not
better. It is the most recent data about air packs' performance
since a series of tests conducted between 1998 and 2000.
The report covers two rounds of testing between 2000 and 2004.
The earlier tests involved 90 CSE air packs removed from mines.
Those tests found 10 percent of the air packs with breathing hoses
stuck together and 9 percent with torn hoses.
NIOSH said the company addressed the problems by adding a test
that can detect damage and indicators that show whether air packs
have been exposed to extremely high temperatures, which can damage
them. Despite the fixes, the government found more problems in
later tests - 19 percent of 98 air packs had stuck hoses, while 9
percent had torn hoses.
The tests also found the packs produce high breathing pressure,
and when combined with high levels of carbon dioxide, they can make
it more difficult to breathe.
The chief mining regulatory body, the Mine Safety and Health
Administration, was still examining the report, a spokesman said.
"MSHA experts are reviewing the NIOSH studies and it is
premature to comment at this time on NIOSH's results," said MSHA
spokesman Dirk Fillpot.
The test results are significant because CSE has approximately
60 percent of the U.S. market for air packs. The company's air
packs are popular because their small size and light weight make
them easy to carry on a miner's belt.
Randal McCloy Jr., the lone survivor of the Sago disaster, said
four members of his crew couldn't get their CSE air packs to work
in the January disaster. Eleven of the 12 miners who died in the
Jan. 2 accident succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning. CSE has
since been sued by McCloy and the families of two other victims.
The company has maintained that its air packs work properly, so
long as miners inspect them and care for them according to its
criteria. Messages seeking comment were left with an attorney for
CSE on Thursday.
NIOSH also tested air packs made by three other manufacturers:
Pleasant Prairie, Wis.-based Ocenco, Pittsburgh-based Draeger
Safety and Pittsburgh-based Mine Safety Appliances Co. The agency
found some problems, but they were not as numerous as with CSE's
units.


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