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U.S. Seeks Improved Rescues in Mines

January 22, 2006|David Willman | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — As two coal miners were found dead two days after fire swept through a mine shaft in Melville, W.Va., the Bush administration was signaling a new sensitivity to the industry's dangers.

The deaths came about three weeks after 12 miners died following an explosion at the Sago Mine in Tallmansville, W.Va. One trapped miner survived and remained hospitalized Saturday.

Facing criticism for its approach to safety regulation, the administration will formally solicit ideas this week for improving the equipment and technology used in mine rescues, federal Mine Safety and Health Administration officials said Saturday.

"Responses to this request for information will assist the agency in determining an appropriate course of action as necessary to improve mine rescue capabilities," wrote David G. Dye, the acting assistant labor secretary for mine safety and health.

"When mine accidents occur, effective mine rescue operation can play a crucial role in ensuring the safe withdrawal of affected miners," he added. "Specialized rescue equipment and technology are important components of that effort."

Dye's 16-page solicitation, which will be published this week in the Federal Register, requests responses within 60 days. A copy of the document, dated Jan. 20, was obtained by the Los Angeles Times.

The administration's interest in reevaluating the adequacy of federal policies related to mine rescues comes as questions continue to be raised about the circumstances surrounding the Sago Mine deaths.

A government investigation of those deaths is being led by J. Davitt McAteer, who headed the mine agency under President Clinton. Investigations are also expected of the fire that broke out Thursday in the Aracoma Mine and claimed the lives of the two miners found Saturday.

In its solicitation of ideas for improving rescues, the administration pointed out that it was not yet clear whether more lives could have been saved after the explosion at the Sago Mine.

Comments are to be sought regarding 10 areas, including:

* Rapid deployment systems that could detect underground movement or receive signals transmitted by trapped miners.

* Breathing equipment that would enable rescuers to more quickly enter oxygen-deprived cavities.

* Devices that might double miners' supply of oxygen in an emergency. The government as of now requires that such devices provide miners with a one-hour supply of oxygen.

* Rescue chambers -- emergency shelters within the mines that operators would be required to construct and maintain.

* Communications gear, including enhanced hand-held radios.

* Robot-like devices that enter mines under conditions too dangerous for human rescuers.

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