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Mining Safety


Mining is defined as the extraction of valuable minerals from the earth’s crust. Mining deposits are tapped for various reasons by miners from underground the earth. Over the years, mining disasters have happened in the U.S. coal fields and action has been followed them. Mining which is the extraction of valuable minerals from the earth’s crust is essential. This is due to the end products of mining; coal for energy and jewelry from diamonds and many more others. Minerals are found in plenty in the U.S and some of the major mining areas are found in Appalachia started since the 16th century.

Coal mining has been done for various reasons in the past many years. According to Mcglynn Daniel, 2011 (562) many people saw coal as a way to meet fuel shortages and mining jobs have been increasing over the years. Mining is very essential in our society especially due to the production of energy and minerals and therefore essential in the economy of the U.S. On the other hand, the issue of mining has drawn a lot of criticism because it has led to not only loss of lives but also destruction of the environment resulting to endangering many animals. This essay will discuss the benefits and arguments for mining against those who are opposed to the act citing environmental destruction and loss of human life.

There are several disasters that have occurred in the U.S. coal mining fields since the act of mining started several years ago. The worst of these tragedies occurred in 1907 where an estimated 362 people died and after a few days another disaster claimed 329 miners in Alabama. The trend continued in 1909 when an estimated 259 miners died in Cherry, Ill. Due to the increased number of causalities, Congress created a bureau of mines whose work was to foster the growth of mining and also research and report on the causes of mining. Another disaster in 1947 that claimed 111 people led Congress to passing the first ever mine-safety legislation, the Mine Safety Act, which led to reduction of the number of deaths. But coal safety recognition earned real recognition when in television showed trapped miners being rescued from an underground mine in 1968. This led to Congress passing a tougher act in 1969 whose aim was to punish coal operators who violated safety standards as well as criminal investigation against the coal operators. Congress later in 1977 passed The Mine Safety Health Administration after the Scotia mine disaster. The act is operational till to date. (Mcglynn, D., 561).

Since then, Mcglynn, (562), the number of fatalities has greatly reduced since the enactment of the 1977 Act. But activists and advocates have been pushing hard for the enactment of reforms which they believe will lead to lower fatalities and injuries. There have been notable improvements made to reduce the number of deaths and this can be seen to have helped. An example is the two way communications with miners which helps track their movements. Also, underground emergency shelters in the mine sites, impromptu inspections by government officials and a highly qualified rescue team has gone a long way in reducing the mining tragedies.

Safety in the mines involves not only individuals but also the environment. This means that in the process of mining, a lot is involved including the process of mining, the equipment and machinery used and the communities living in the mining areas. As debating on mining safety rages, there are two camps; one for mining companies and the other against the mining companies. Those for mining companies argue that Federal oversight will not necessarily make coal mining safer. Examples such as that of John Lester, a nineteen year old who had been a miner for a hundred and nine days when he was caught by a conveyor belt and was crushed under a load of coal. The other camp argues that it is true that the goal of zero fatalities is achievable. According to them coal can in fact be mined safely. Mine Safety and Health Administration is making efforts in pressing congress to pass new mine safety legislation (Mcglynn, D., 561-562).

Arguments have been cited discrediting this saying that at times companies lose a lot when they spend a lot of time doing instead of working. Mine Safety and Health administration is using strategies such as using citations of patterns of violations which are targeting rule breakers who have been known to break rules repeatedly. The assistant secretary of labor for mine safety, John Main is for the idea of aggressive inspections in order to ensure mine safety. Mine Safety and Health administration is targeting mines that have been given notices of inspection. The conditions in the sites call to attention the need for impact inspection. Main goes ahead to give the example of an inspector who could hardly see the machinery they were using which was a strong indicator that the mine was not safe and if they needed help it would be hard to get. Others argue that rather than focusing on legislative interventions in enhancing mine safety, more emphasis should be placed on enforcing better job training and place standards on drug testing which should be mandatory for all. This is because a lot happens when you are at the company level as you can regulate yourself better as compared to government regulation because the company is geared towards creating high profit rates (Mcglynn, D., 557).

Arguments on the safety mountaintop mining are also raging with the pros and cons trying to outweigh each other. Proponents of mountaintop mining removal say that it improves the economy in that it is important for the growing demands of energy. The coal is sold to companies to generate electricity. It has created job opportunities in areas such as Kentucky, West Virginia, Ohio, Tennessee and Pennsylvania. These jobs include positions such as truck drivers and mechanics. Statistics show that it has created sixty thousand jobs in Appalachia. This is according to a survey done by the National Mining Association (Mcglynn, D., 560).

The cons however, seem to outweigh the pros. The dangers of mountaintop mining start with the mining process in which the mountaintop is blasted to access the coal. The peaks of the mountains which were once forested are turned to denuded plateaus. The current administration and environmentalist are fighting this method of coal extraction citing reasons for the environment. This is due to the fact that there is inappropriate placing of the soil, rocks and debris which is dumped in nearby valleys. This is in direct violation of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 which requires mining companies to restore the soil that has been removed which goes a long way in preventing soil erosion (Mcglynn, D., 556).

Mountaintop mining may involve waste materials, heavy metals and chemical elements which are toxic when introduced to the body. Reports of cancer in people living in areas where mountaintop mining is practiced have been reported. Creatures such as fish and birds are also paying the price in that this element with the example of selenium that dissolves in water causes deformities and lowers hatch rates respectively. Reports of houses being shaken off their foundations and air pollution from the dust are also increasing. The dumping of the soil, rock and debris in the valleys is also causing the burying of water streams affecting the marine life and also the human folks. The federal government has partnered with the Environmental Protection Agency to set strict standards for obtaining permits for mountaintop mining. This move has been fought by state governments where the mining is taking place since it is a source of revenue (Mcglynn, D., 568).

However, some of the sites of mountaintop mining, have been reclaimed and are used for small airport, building hospitals, schools, industrial plants and correctional facilities. Mining is hazardous for both man and the environment. Case in point is the sulfur emission from coal burning power plants which form acid rain which is corrosive to the plants and poisons marine life. It can cause skin diseases when one is rained on. Inhalation of coal dust in the mines can lead to lung cancer and black lung disease for the miners especially if the appropriate protective gear is not used (Mcglynn, D., 564).

A report by Graebner, 1997, blames the on outmoded safety techniques and this occurred recently after the explosion in the Upper Big Branch mine in 2010. According to the management, the twenty first century practices of coal mining have failed to keep pace with the production practices of the twenty first century. They called for improved technology to ensure the safety of miners. However, even with the availability of technology, getting it to the miners is not always an easy task. Some of the mines do not comply with the regulations such as those requiring miners to carry a two way communicator while they are underground.

With these debates continuing to determine whether the method should be continued, communities living in the mining areas are complaining that the mining sites are taking land that surrounds the site. Families are taking the matter to court to contest especially those without deeds of the land in which they are claiming are theirs.

Mining safety is an issue which is still inviting a lot of controversies up to date and more people are involved in advocating for abolition of strip mining. The issue is still contentious as it draws more and more debates especially when disaster strikes.

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