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Boone, Marion mines targeted for respirable dust compliance

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Federal regulators have targeted select mines for "impact inspections" in force since the explosion of Upper Big Branch, and now will be focusing on respirable dust compliance as well.

The monthly inspections were intended to put additional pressure on frequent non-compliance mines and other mines that warranted additional scrutiny. In a release Oct. 31, MSHA said it was now including a focus on respirable dust as a criteria for targeting mines for impact inspections.

"As part of our overall strategy to improve compliance in the nation's mines, and because of the egregious nature of some of the coal dust-related violations our inspectors have encountered during past impact inspections, I've instructed our enforcement personnel to give special consideration to mines with respirable dust or ventilation and dust control plan compliance concerns," said Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health.

Two mines highlighted as an example of having trouble complying with respirable dust standards were in West Virginia. Respirable dust has been shown to cause black lung and other serious respiratory disease in coal miners.

Every coal mine selected in September's inspections had been previously cited for "regarding respirable dust sampling results or methods, inadequate dust control or ventilation plans, on-shift examination violations or hazard complaints related to respirable dust." In its announcement, however, MSHA, focused on the Elk Run Coal Inc.'s Roundbottom Powellton Mine in Boone County, owned by Alpha Natural Resources.

At the Roundbottom mine, officials issued 20 citations and one order during the "health-focused inspection."

"Each set of mining machinery is required to have a minimum amount of air available to ventilate all working faces, dilute gases and carry coal dust away from the workers," MSHA stated. "In this mine, the operator failed to follow the methane and dust control portion of an approved ventilation plan, and inspectors found many improperly ventilated areas. In one section where a continuous mining machine was located, there was not even enough air movement to turn the blades of an anemometer – an inspector's air measurement device – to measure any ventilating current."

According to MSHA, air quality in the area was low, due to a clogged scrubber filer allowing only 60 percent of required air flow. Water sprays used to tamp down airborne dust were also partially defective – only 27 of 41 were working.

"Inadequate ventilation, insufficient air quantities and improperly maintained dust controls expose miners to the risk of explosions and black lung," said Main.

At the Dana Mining LLC Arco No. Mine in Marion County, inspectors issued one unwarrantable failure citation for not complying with the approved ventilation plan. It was also issued a citation for failing to provide a ventilating current to the face where a continuous mining machine was operating.

"These compliance failures prevented ventilation to remove respirable dust and gasses from the working environment," MSHA stated. "All production personnel were retrained on the requirements of the approved ventilation plan."

Since  the Upper Big Branch explosion in Raleigh County killed 29 men April 2010, MSHA has conducted 508 impact inspections and issued 8,950 citations, 875 orders and 38 safeguards. About 150 citations and 10 orders were issued just last month at 13 coal mines and three metal/nonmetal mines.

One other mine, the No. 58 mine operated by Pay Car Mining and controlled by James C. Justice Coal Group, was also targeted and received six citations.