Monongah Mining Disaster
On December 6, 1907, around 10 o'clock in the morning after 380 men and boys had begun their coal mining shift, mines number 6 and 8 of the Consolidated Coal Company shook from the impact of an underground explosion. The explosion disrupted the ventilation systems, and an effluence of deadly gases permeated the mines. The men and boys who survived the explosion and cave-in were trapped and would soon succumb to the gases.
Rescue workers could only work in the mines for 15 minutes due to the lack of breathing equipment. Some of those workers also perished due to the poisonous gas.
On December 8 fires broke out in mines number 6 and 8, creating an additional hazard of smoke and flames, which increased the problems involved in the rescue attempt.
Bodies were identified by their personal effects and some were never identified.
The explosion was thought to have been caused by the ignition of methane, or "black damp." This in turn ignited the highly flammable coal dust, found in all West Virginia bituminous coal mines. What ignited the "black damp" is unknown although two theories emerged: carelessness with an open lamp or a dynamite blast gone wrong.
Thirteen days after the accident, an official Federal government report on mining accidents and deaths was released. The New York Times reported that the government document said the number of accidents due to mining explosions had steadily increased due to "lack of proper and enforceable mine regulations."
Establishment of the Bureau of Mines
With the loss of more than 1000 workers from 1907-1909 in mining disasters, such as Monongah, the Progressive Movement pushed for governmental regulations to improve working conditions in the mines. Mine operators hoped to stave off this government regulatory control by the implementation of their own safety practices. However Congress was pressured in 1910 to establish the US Bureau of Mines, an agency of the Department of Interior, to further research mine safety problems and conduct mine inspections. The Bureau did help establish some safety standards, but had little enforcement power to correct infractions.
- Historical Data on Mine Disasters in the United States, U.S. Department of Labor website, accessed November 2009.
- Coal Mining Disasters, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, accessed November 2009.
- "Monongah Mining Disaster" Boise State Website, accessed November 2009