Faulty seals a factor in Sago mine blast

BUCKHANNON, W. Va. (PAI) - Faulty seals in an abandoned part of the Sago, W. Va., coal mine were one factor in the lethal Jan. 2 blast that killed 12 miners and injured a 13th, a new West Virginia state report says.

The report, commissioned by Gov. Joe Manchin (D) after the fatal explosion, says all causes of the blast have not been pinned down, but the seals were a problem.

Some Sago equipment in the mine is still being tested, chief report author J. Davitt McAteer, federal Mine Safety and Health Administrator under President Clinton, told a July 19 press conference in Buckhannon, W. Va.

The explosion was the first of a series of mine accidents that have killed 33 mine workers so far this year, the United Mine Workers report. The Sago mine was non-unionized, but the families of the victims asked UMW to represent them in probes. The union had no comment on McAteer’s report because it is doing its own investigation and its findings will be ready in several weeks, a spokesman said.

A summary of the report quoted McAteer as saying “We cannot ignore the fact there were lightning strikes in the area, at the time of the blast, but it is still not clear how that charge could have reached the sealed area of the Sago mine.”

The report also “put blame on the seals around an abandoned part of the mine where it’s believed the blast originated.” McAteer said, “The law requires those seals to be blast-proof, and his findings show they were not.”

The Sago blast and subsequent problems it exposed at Sago and with the Bush administration’s Mine Safety and Health Administration forced a new federal mine safety law that the West Virginia delegation drafted, the GOP-run Congress passed and President George W. Bush signed all within six weeks.

The legislation mandates safety measures including better rescue procedures and stocking of more portable safety ventilators for miners. The Sago miners lacked enough ventilators and rescue communications were poor.