Federal Lawmakers Say Emergency Inflatable Mine Shelters Could Save Lives

By: Jon Sonnheim Email
By: Jon Sonnheim Email

It could've saved more than a dozen coal miners' lives last year in the Darby and Sago disasters and some federal lawmakers say emergency inflatable mine shelters could be the solution to saving lives in underground mines.

Some lawmakers are saying is that the inflatable shelters could be saving lives right now if federal officials with the Mine Safety and Health Administration stopped dragging their feet. While the state of West Virginia is already making these emergency shelters mandatory in all their underground mines, MSHA officials and other local coal operators say they're just not sure these devices are the answer.

It can safely hold up to 35 people, be inflated in only three minutes, and provide oxygen, water, and food for up to 96 hours in an underground mine emergency. Shelters like this one are now being required in all West Virginia mines which have left some lawmakers in Washington DC wondering why federal mine officials are not requiring nationwide.

"Had it been deployed at the time of the Sago and Darby Mine incidents could have saved the vast majority of the miners," said California Representative George Miller.

"Sarah and I are just wanting all the young miners we have met to be safe, and come home from work everyday, and this is wonderful. I think it will save lives," said Sago widow Debbie Hamner.

Richard Stickler, the head of MSHA, says they need more time to study the shelters while testifying in front of a congressional committee Wednesday. While some Eastern Kentucky coal companies say they're now required to meet certain shelter conditions, they say the inflatable shelters don't give all the protection they need.

"And if the top were to begin falling, you can't get out of that thing quick enough to get away," said Dave Blankenship.

Congressman Miller mentioning the Darby Mine in Harlan County as one of the mines that could have benefited from this type of shelter. We'll have much more on the impact that mine disaster had upon the region and country in the next several days as we approach the one year anniversary of Darby.

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