Federal inspectors find hundreds of coal-mine safety violations

Coal miners across the country are working in unsafe conditions, according to the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration. As if spending the day in methane-filled caverns wasn’t dangerous enough, inspectors have found hundreds of unsafe seals, the walls built to block off mined-out areas. Two major accidents last year — the Sago, W.V., explosion that killed 12 miners in January and the Kentucky Darby Mine explosion in May that killed five — resulted from problems with seals. Eager to avoid a repeat of those high-profile fatalities, MSHA is lobbying to strengthen U.S. seal standards, which are currently weaker than those in other coal-mining countries. But the coal industry says tougher standards would be expensive and time-consuming. Because really, what’s a human life or two when you’ve saved a few bucks? With a final rule due out in mid-December, MSHA might take what it can get. At this point, says engineer Erik Sherer, “we’re just happy if there is mortar between the joints.”