Coal mining disasters
Coal mining disasters include harm to miners, the public, and the environment. This article discusses disasters involving coal mining, coal sludge spills, and coal transport.
Coal Mining Accidents
Coal mining accidents can occur in the process of mining coal, and have a variety of causes, including leaks of poisonous gases such as hydrogen sulphide or explosive natural gases especially firedamp or methane, coal dust dust explosions, collapsing of mine stopes, mining-induced seismicity, flooding, or general mechanical errors from improperly used or malfunctioning mining equipment.
Since many of these disasters are exacerbated by lack of regulation and/or enforcement, some refer to these incidents not as "accidents" but as human-caused disasters. Around the world, thousands of miners die each year from coal mining accidents, with the largest number of deaths occuring in China.
According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), there have been 622 coal mining accidents that resulted in five or more fatalities from 1839 to 2007. On October 11, 2010, the 45th US miner died so far that year: William Dooley, a roof bolter, was crushed by falling rock at an Alpha Natural Resources Mine in West Virginia.
Following a decade in which the number of coal mining fatalities exceeded 2,000 annually, Congress established the Bureau Of Mines in 1910 as a new agency in the Department of the Interior. The Bureau was to investigate accidents, advise industry, conduct production and safety research, and teach courses in accident prevention, first aid, and mine rescue. However, Congress did not empower the federal inspectors to enter and inspect mines until 1941, and did not authorize a code of federal regulations for mine safety until 1947.
The Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Acts of 1969 and 1977 set greater safety standards for the industry. Where annual mining deaths had numbered more than 1,000 a year in the early part of the 20th century, they decreased to an average of about 500 in the late 1950s, and to 93 during the 1990s. In addition to deaths, many thousands more are injured (an average of 21,351 injuries per year between 1991 and 1999).
In 2006, 72 miners (coal and non-coal) lost their lives at work, 47 in coal mining. The majority of these fatalities occurred in Kentucky and West Virginia, including the Sago Mine Disaster and the Aracoma Alma Mine accident.
On April 5, 2010, an explosion at a Massey Energy's underground Upper Big Branch Mine in southern West Virginia killed 25 miners, with four unaccounted for, making it the worst U.S. coal mining accident in two decades. Mine-safety experts said explosions are typically caused by high levels of methane produced during longwall mining, which mining companies try to dilute with ventilation systems, although Massey has been repeatedly cited for violating this requirement: the Upper Big Branch mine has had six violations related to ventilation since January and four since March 17, according to Mine Safety and Health Administration data. In 2009, the mine had 50 "unwarrantable failure citations," the most serious findings of negligence a mine inspector can issue, including a citation for not properly marking miner escape routes in case of an accident. There have been three other fatalities at the Upper Big Branch mine in the last 12 years.
The Mine Safety and Health Administration reported that 21 U.S. coal miners died in accidents in 2011.
Probably the most famous accidents in Canada are collectively referred to as the Springhill mining disasters. An explosion in 1956 killed 39 miners, and another 74 died in the 1958 "bump," similar to a small earthquake, which shattered the No. 2 colliery of the Cumberland mines.
China currently has the largest number of coal-mining fatalities in any country, accounting for about 80% of the world’s total, although it produces only 35% of the world’s coal. Between January 2001 to October 2004, there were 188 accidents that had a death toll of more than 10, about one death every 7.4 days. According to official figures, at least 3,200 people died in China's mines in 2008. The actual number could be even higher, as the Chinese government is suspected of covering up some accidents. Most accidents are blamed on a failure to follow safety regulations, including adequate ventilation and available fire control equipment. In 2009, China had the most mining accident fatalities in the world, with a total of 2,631 coal miners dying in accidents, according to an official figure released by State Administration of Work Safety, which could be a conservative estimate.
After the 2005 Sunjiawan mine disaster, which killed at least 210 miners, a meeting of the State Council was convened to work on measures to improve work safety in coal mines. The meeting's statement pointed out serious problems such as violation of safety standards and overproduction in some coal mines. Three billion yuan (36 million US dollars) were earmarked for technological renovation on work safety, gas management in particular, at state-owned major coal mines. The government also promised to send safety supervision teams to 45 coal mines with serious gas problems and invite colliery safety experts to evaluate safety situations in coal mines and formulate prevention measures.
In 2006, according to the State Work Safety Supervision Administration, 4,749 Chinese coal miners were killed in thousands of blasts, floods, and other accidents. For example, a gas explosion at the Nanshan Colliery killed 24 people on November 13, 2006; the mine was operating without any safety license and the Xinhua News Agency claimed the cause was incorrect usage of explosives. However, the 2006 rate was 20.1% less than 2005 despite an 8.1% rise in production.
The worst coal mining disaster in the world took place on April 26, 1942 in Benxihu Colliery, located at Benxi, Liaoning. A coal-dust explosion killed 1,549 miners working that day.
For the a full list of China coal mining accidents, please visit the article on China coal mine accidents.
Blast kills 77 in China's worst industrial accident in over a year
On February 22, 2009, a gas explosion at the Tunlan coal mine in northern China killed at least 77 miners and trapped dozens more. It was China's deadliest coal mine accident in more than a year. As of February 25, rescuers were still searching for one more miner, who faced slim chances of survival. More than 350 people survived the explosion, including 114 who were still hospitalized.
A preliminary investigation into the cause of the blast cited negligence. The state probe found that poor ventilation and gas management, and the absence of on-site security measures and supervision were to blame for the disaster. Three senior mine officials were fired, including the mine manager, chief safety officer, and chief engineer.
On February 25, 2009, the governor of the northern province of Shanxi wept as he apologized for the disaster. Governor Wang Jun replaced the province's former governor after an unlicensed tailings dam at an iron ore mine collapsed in September 2008, killing 277 people.
Coal mine flood kills 7 in northeast China
On April 4, 2009, about 4,000 cubic meters of water poured into the shaft of a mine in Heilongjiang Province, where 22 miners were working underground. Six miners escaped, and another four were rescued and taken to a nearby hospital. As of April 6, the death toll stood at seven, and rescue efforts were still ongoing. Officials said the mine was licensed, but that had not been authorized by safety inspectors and thus was operating. Police said they had detained the owner of the mine, which is reported to have an estimated yearly output of 40,000 tonnes.
Miners trapped for 25 days in flooded mine
Three miners were rescued on July 12, 2009 after spending 25 days trapped in a flooded mine in Guizhou province in southern China. Rescuers burrowed through a collapsed tunnel to reach the miners, who said they had survived by drinking dirty water and eating coal. The flood trapped 16 miners on June 17. Rescuers had previously recovered one body and were still looking for the remaining 12 miners.
Mine explosion kills more than 100
On November 21, 2009, a massive gas explosion at a coal mine in northeastern China killed at least 42 miners, with 66 more miners trapped about a third of a mile underground. By November 23, the death toll was at 104. The blast occurred while 528 miners were working underground in a state-owned mine in Hegang, in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang. About 400 miners were able to escape.
Shanxi Province Coal Mine Flood
On March 28, 2010, an estimated 261 miners (some Chinese media suspected more) working in a coal mine in northern China’s Shanxi Province were trapped when water leaked into and flooded the underground mine shaft. The authorities claimed that 108 miners had been lifted out, and that 153 were still trapped in the flood. On April 5, one hundred and fifteen more miners were rescued, nine days after being trapped in the flooded coal mine, with another 38 miners still trapped underground. Chinese media reported that some of the miners who were rescued used their belts to fasten their bodies to the rock wall, and crawled further into the mine after being submerged in water for three days and three nights. They ate pine tree bark from construction wood poles and drank cold water to stay alive.
Authorities were criticized for waiting until April 3, six days after miners were trapped, to make the first attempt to send rescuers into the pit to look for possible survivors.
October 2011: Explosion in Chinese coal mine kills at least 17 workers
On October 4, 2011 Chinese media announced that a coal mine explosion killed at least 17 workers, but others were still missing. A cause of the blast was not reported, which occurred in the southwestern province of Guizhou.
October 2011: 8 die in southwestern China coal mine accident
On October 17, 2011 at least eight people were killed and several others went mission after an explosion at a coal mine in southwestern China. The explosion happened in the Dashu Township of Fengjie County, located in China's Chongqing Municipality, government officials told the state-run Xinhua news agency.
According to officials, 16 miners were working in the mine at the time of the gas explosion. Eight of them have been confirmed dead while five others remain unaccounted for. Three workers were successfully rescued, two of them who had injuries.
November 2011: 52 coal miners rescued following explosion, eight dead
A coal mine blast in China on November 5, 2011 left eight dead. The mine was owned by the state run Yima Coal Mine Group. 52 miners were pulled to safety from the mine. The accident was caused by an explosion in a tunnel after a minor earthquake.
November 2011: Coal mine blast kills 20, traps 23 in China
A mine blast in China and November 10, 2011 killed at least 20 workers and trapped another 23 coal miners. The mine hit a "coal and gas outburst" - which is a violent ejection of coal, gas and rock from a coal face in a mine. These types of accidents can cause serious injuries and damage to machinery. The official China News Service (CNS) said 20 people were confirmed dead. Rescue efforts for the remaining 23 trapped miners were underway.
January 2012: Collapse at coal mine in southwestern China kills 9
It was reported on January 5, 2012 it was reported that nine workers have been killed and two others are injured after a collapse at a coal mine in southwestern China, local authorities said on Thursday. The accident happened occurred at a mine in Fuyuan county, which is part of Qujing city in Yunnan province. A group of workers was clearing residue coal which caused coal heap to collapse. According to the state-run Xinhua news agency, local officials said that nine miners died while they were being transported to a local hospital.
July 2012: 16 coal miners in southern China trapped in flooded mine shaft
In July 2012 it was reported that sixteen coal miners in southern China were trapped in their flooded shaft for more than 24 hours. The China News Service states rescuers pumped the shaft dry and were restoring air supply. No word on the state of the trapped miners was given.
July 2013: Coal mine blast in Xinhua kills 53
Four officials in Xinhua are being investigated for a coal mine blast that killed 53 people last spring. The four suspects were accused of failing to detect the company’s breach of safety regulations and they allowed for the mine to continue their operations under “dangerous conditions.” The blast that occured in in Jilin Province of Northeast China was one of the worst that has occured in recent years. There were two explosions, one on March 29, that killed 36 people at the Baobao Coal Mine in Baishan and a second explosion on April 1 killing 17 more people. Tonghua Mining Group continued to opperate these mines against the orders from the provincial government to hault opperations.
The most notable mining accident in New Zealand is the 1896 Brunner Mine disaster. 65 miners died in the disaster, almost half of the Brunner underground work force. It is believed that fire damp -- a miners' name for a gas of mostly methane which forms as decaying plant matter turns into coal and becomes explosive when mixed with air -- had accumulated and not been cleared properly by the ventilation system, and a series of explosions had been the result.
Several major mining accidents happened in Russia, particularly the 2007 Ulyanovskaya Mine disaster where a methane gas explosion killed 107 people.
Mining accidents are common in Turkey, which has poor mine-safety conditions. According to a report issued in 2010 by the Turkish Economy Policies Research Foundation (TEPAV), in 2008, deaths per 1 million tons of coal mined were 7.22 in Turkey (the highest figure in the world), 5 times the rate in China (1.27) and 361 times the rate in the US (0.02). Official statistics record that more than 3,000 coal miners died in mining accidents from 1941 to April 2014. 78 miners were killed in accidents in 2012, and 95 died in 2013. Prior to the Soma disaster, the deadliest accident in recent Turkish mining history was an explosion which killed 263 people in 1992.
May 2014: Explosion kills 301 people in Turkey
On 13 May 2014, an explosion at a coal mine in Soma, Manisa, Turkey, caused an underground mine fire, which burned until 15 May. In total, 301 people were killed in what was the worst mine disaster in Turkey's history. The mine, operated by coal producer Soma Kömür İşletmeleri A.Ş., suffered an explosion, the cause of which is still under investigation. The fire occurred at the mine's shift change, and 787 workers were underground at the time of the explosion. After the final bodies were pulled from the mine on May 17, 2014, four days after the fire, Minister of Energy and Natural Resources Taner Yıldız confirmed the number of dead was 301. Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD) announced the names of 301 workers who died in the mine disaster and 486 people who survived but some politicians claimed that the number of dead is more than 340.
Some of the largest and worst mining accidents occurred in Wales. Over the period 1850 to 1930 the South Wales coalfield had the worst disaster record. This was due to the increasing number of mines being sunk to greater depths into gas-containing strata, combined with poor safety and management practices. As a result there were nearly forty underground explosions in the Glamorgan and Monmouthshire areas of the coalfield during this time. Each accident resulted in the deaths of twenty or more men and boys - either directly during the explosion or by suffocation in the poisonous gases formed. The total death toll from these disasters was 3,119.
- 439 deaths at the Senghenydd Colliery Disaster at Universal Colliery in Senghenydd, Glamorgan in a gas explosion in 1913
- 290 deaths at the Albion Colliery in Cilfynydd, Glamorgan in a gas explosion on 25 June 1894
- 266 lives lost in the Gresford Disaster near Wrexham in North Wales on 22 September 1934
- 259 deaths at the Prince of Wales Mine, Abercarn, Monmouthshire in an explosion on 11 September 1878.
The Hulton Colliery explosion, Westhoughton, Lancashire in 1910, claimed the lives of 344 .
An explosion in 1878, at the Wood Pit, Haydock, Lancashire, killed over 200 men and boys, however, only 189 were included in the 'official list'.
In the metalliferous mines of Cornwall, some of the worst accidents were at East Wheal Rose in 1846, where 39 men were killed by a sudden flood; at Levant mine in 1919, where 31 were killed and many injured in a failure of the man engine; 12 killed at Wheal Agar in 1883 when a cage fell down a shaft; and seven killed at Dolcoath mine in 1893 when a large stoping collapsed.
The worst mining accident in Scotland is the Blantyre mining disaster in Blantyre, Lanarkshire which claimed 207 lives in 1877 due to an explosion from the presence of dangerous fire-damp and improper implementation of regulations. Many were just young boys, the youngest being eleven years old. Another disaster followed in 1879, when a further twenty-eight miners were killed.
Coal Sludge Spills
Coal sludge, also known as slurry, is the liquid coal waste produced by mining activities. After mining, coal is crushed and washed to remove the surrounding soil and rock. The washing process generates huge amounts of liquid waste, and the mining process itself produces millions of tons of solid waste. Coal sludge is filled with toxins. Each year coal preparation creates waste water containing an estimated 13 tons of mercury, 3236 tons of arsenic, 189 tons of beryllium, 251 tons of cadmium, and 2754 tons of nickel, and 1098 tons of selenium.
Coal companies usually dispose of this waste by constructing dams from the solid mining refuse to store the liquid waste. These impoundments are usually located in valleys near their coal processing plants.
These impoundments have broken open, flooding neighborhoods, killing and injuring people, and contaminating the water supply:
Aberfan is a village four miles south of Merthyr Tydfil in Wales, England. The village is chiefly known because of the catastrophic collapse of a coal mining sludge spill that occurred there in 1966, known as the Aberfan Disaster, which killed 144 people, including 116 children.
1972: Buffalo Creek Flood
The Buffalo Creek Flood was an incident that occurred on February 26, 1972, when the Pittston Coal Company's coal slurry impoundment dam #3, located on a hillside in Logan County, West Virginia, burst four days after having been declared 'satisfactory' by a federal mine inspector.
The resulting flood unleashed approximately 132 million gallons (500,000,000 L) of black waste water, cresting over 30ft high, upon the residents of 16 coal mining hamlets in Buffalo Creek Hollow. Out of a population of 5,000 people, 125 were killed, 1,121 were injured, and over 4,000 were left homeless. 507 houses were destroyed, in addition to forty-four mobile homes and 30 businesses. The disaster also destroyed or damaged homes in Lundale, Saunders, Amherstdale, Crites, Latrobe and Larado. In its legal filings, Pittston Coal referred to the accident as "an Act of God."
Dam #3, constructed of coarse mining refuse dumped into the Middle Fork of Buffalo Creek starting in 1968, failed first, following heavy rains. The water from Dam #3 then overwhelmed Dams #2 and #1. Dam #3 had been built on top of coal slurry sediment that had collected behind dams # 1 and #2, instead of on solid bedrock. Dam #3 was approximately 260 feet above the town of Saunders when it failed.
2000: Martin County Sludge Spill
The Martin County Sludge Spill occurred after midnight on October 11, 2000 when the bottom of a coal sludge impoundment owned by Massey Energy in Martin County, Kentucky, broke into an abandoned underground mine below. The slurry came out of the mine openings, sending an estimated 306 million gallons (1.16 billion liters) of sludge down two tributaries of the Tug Fork River. By morning, Wolf Creek was oozing with the black waste; on Coldwater Fork, a ten-foot (3 m) wide stream became a 100-yard (91 m) expanse of thick sludge.
On December 22, 2008, a retention pond wall collapsed at Tennessee Valley Authority's (TVA) Kingston plant in Harriman, Tennessee, releasing a combination of water and fly ash that flooded 12 homes, spilled into nearby Watts Bar Lake, contaminated the Emory River, and caused a train wreck. Officials said 4 to 6 feet of material escaped from the pond to cover an estimated 400 acres of adjacent land. A train bringing coal to the plant became stuck when it was unable to stop before reaching the flooded tracks. Hundreds of fish were floating dead downstream from the plant. Water tests showed elevated levels of lead and thallium.
January 2009: TVA Widows Creek coal waste spill
On January 9, 2009, Tennessee Valley Authority confirmed another coal waste spill at its Widows Creek plant in northeast Alabama, less than three weeks after the enormous Tennessee coal ash spill at TVA's Kingston Fossil Plant. The spill, which TVA said originated from a gypsum treatment operation, released about 10,000 gallons of toxic gypsum material, some of which spilled into Widows Creek and the nearby Tennessee River.
Gypsum ponds contain limestone spray from smokestack scrubbers, which trap sulfur dioxide emissions before they are released into the air and turn them into sludge and solid waste. According to a TVA statement, the spill occurred at 6 AM when a cap dislodged from a 30-inch standpipe, releasing material from the gypsum pond into a settling pond, which then reached capacity and overflowed.
Coal Transport Disasters
The long-distance transport of coal can also result in occasional but significant disasters.
2010: Shen Neng 1 coal carrier collision
On April 3, 2010, Chinese-owned bulk coal carrier named Shen Neng 1 rammed into the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, the planet's largest coral reef and selected as a World Heritage Site in 1981. The reef is more than 1,200 miles long and comprises more than 3,000 individual reefs, cays, and islands, providing a habitat for countless sea species. The 700 foot vessel was hauling more than 65,000 tons of coal, and hit the reef at full speed in a restricted zone of the marine park, rupturing the vessel's fuel tanks and prompting Australian officials to activate a national oil spill response plan. Besides physical damage to the reef, the greatest threat to the reef was signs of leakage of the roughly 300,000 gallons of heavy low-grade fuel oil the vessel carries to run its engine. The fuel oil is a byproduct of oil production that is used by many cargo ships because it is cheap, but also full of contaminants and very gooey, making it dangerous for animals and hard to clean up. A light aircraft was seen spraying a chemical dispersant on the spilled oil. 
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