Manufacturer Of Mine Emergency Air Packs Say Product Is Safe

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - The manufacturer of the emergency air packs used by miners during the Sago Mine disaster said Friday its products are safe, despite new government test results that suggest the devices are prone to damaged air hoses and other problems.

CSE Corp. President Scott Shearer said customers share the company's belief. CSE has more than a one-year backlog of orders, is expanding its production plant and adding employees.

"We haven't had any cancellations," Shearer said. "The only thing they're upset with us about is that we have not defended ourselves more."

Shearer's Monroeville, Pa.-based company has been under increasing scrutiny since Randal McCloy Jr., the sole survivor of the Sago explosion, said four members of his 12-man team could not get their CSE air packs to work. CSE has since been sued by McCloy and the families of two of the 12 miners who died in the Jan. 2 accident.

CSE SR-100 air packs also were used during a fatal fire at the Aracoma Alma No. 1 Mine in January and after an explosion at Kentucky's Darby No. 1 Mine in May.

Now the 37-year-old family owned business is coping with the fallout of testing conducted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. A report issued Friday suggests problems with CSE air packs are getting worse, not better.

The report covers two rounds of testing between 2000 and 2004. It is the most recent data about air packs' performance since a series of tests conducted between 1998 and 2000.

Reports on earlier testing from 1982 through August 2000 indicate NIOSH found high breathing pressure and high carbon monoxide levels with CSE air packs that make it difficult to breathe. Those reports list fewer problems with damaged hoses or starter oxygen used to jump start the devices, which are known in
mining as self-contained, self-rescuers, or SCSRs.

The test results are significant because CSE has about 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.

CSE criticized NIOSH for including units that failed inspection criteria. The report indicates 47 of 198 CSE units - one in four - tested failed various inspections required by the company.

"I think the focus for the industry is on the training perspective," Shearer said. "From our standpoint, reassuring the customers that we are confident in the unit and that it does produce oxygen and not to mistreat it. This is a lifesaving

Stacey Vernallis, the company's attorney, said despite concerns, CSE air packs have been proven to work this year.

"We had 13 miners walk out of (Sago), we had 10 miners walk out of Aracoma, we had one miner walk out of Darby with one on," she said. "There are miners that will not go into the mine with anything but an SR-100."

NIOSH plans to change the testing program to broaden the sampling pool for packs, but does not plan to issue any alerts or recalls based on the results, spokesman Fred Blosser said.

"The results from these particular devices that we evaluated cannot be generalized to the larger universe," Blosser said. "By itself, the report doesn't set any new policy for us, but it's one of the things that we're looking at."

NIOSH is considering changing the way it certifies air packs for use in underground mines and is working with the industry to come up with a new generation of the devices.

NIOSH obtained air packs for all the tests from mines.

Les Boord, director of the NIOSH National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory, dismissed CSE's complaint. The testing program is designed to find out what actually happens to air packs in mines.

NIOSH said CSE addressed problems found earlier by adding a new test and indicators that show whether air packs have been exposed to damaging high temperatures. 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 chief mining regulatory body, the Mine Safety and Health Administration, was still examining the report, spokesman Dirk Fillpot said.

NIOSH also tested air packs made by three other manufacturers: Pleasant Prairie, Wis.-based Ocenco Inc., 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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(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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