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West Virginia Mine Fined For Not Reporting Accident Fast Enough

Wed, 03/21/2007 - 6:52am
Tim Huber, Associated Press

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) – A Kanawha County coal mine operator and contractor are facing more than $100,000 in fines apiece for a blasting accident that injured one man and exposed numerous mine employees to toxic military explosives.

Catenary Coal Co. and Charleston-based contractor Nelson Brothers failed to report the Feb. 10 accident to the state within 15 minutes, according to a state accident report obtained by The Associated Press.

Missing the reporting deadline carries a possible $100,000 fine – a penalty approved by the Legislature after 12 miners were killed in an explosion at International Coal Group's Sago Mine in January 2006. Attempts to rescue the men were delayed because authorities were not notified immediately.

If assessed, the $100,000 penalties would be the third and fourth such fines levied by the state. Speed Mining Inc. and Double Bonus Coal Co. have been assessed similar penalties under the new law.

The report shows the state Office of Miners Health, Safety and Training learned about the blast at Catenary's Samples Mine in southeastern Kanawha County from an anonymous tipster two days after the event. The agency has not yet assessed fines for the citations, which can be appealed.

''We haven't made the assessments yet,'' Director Ron Wooten said. ''One of those violations is the failure to notify.''

Other alleged violations involve exposing employees at Catenary's coal preparation plant to the explosive tetryl, which can cause eye irritation and respiratory problems, among other things. The report says numerous prep plant employees suffered nosebleeds, rashes and respiratory problems after unexploded ordnance containing tetryl began showing up in coal from the mine. Tetryl contamination prompted a brief closure of the plant and portions of the mine last month.

Miners' Health, Safety and Training cited Catenary for a total of nine violations. Nelson Brothers received three and a third company, Minden, La.-based Explo Systems Inc., was given six. A Nelson Brothers supervisor also was cited.

None of the companies immediately returned calls seeking comment Tuesday.

All the citations involve the use of aging U.S. Army munitions to blast rock at the Samples Mine. The blasting was part of a disposal plan drawn up by the U.S. Department of Defense and Talon Manufacturing Inc. Earlier this year, Talon agreed to a consent order with the state Department of Environmental Protection to dispose of munitions-related materials and cease operations by May 10.

Other citations involve alleged violations, such as allowing unregistered contractors to work on mine property and improperly transporting explosives.

The worker injured in the original accident was treated and released for exposure to smoke from munitions containing tetryl. The report suggests the accident could have been far worse.

Just after a Catenary foreman ordered the accident scene evacuated, a loud blast sent smoke and debris approximately 150 feet into the air, the report says.

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