November 20, 2008 The Pump Handle 0Comment

Forty years ago today, a series of explosions ripped through the No. 9 Mine in Farmington, West Virginia and killed 78 workers. For nine days, families and friends of trapped miners waited in the hope that some of the miners would survive – but none did, and the mine was finally sealed, with the bodies still inside. The Charleston Gazette’s Paul J. Nyden collects stories from those who lost loved ones in the disaster.

Bonnie Stewart and Scott Finn report for NPR’s All Things Considered that a memo written by a federal investigator and then forgotten for decades can explain why those men died. A ventilation fan that was supposed to keep dangerous levels of methane gas from building up in the mine had malfunctioned, which should have triggered the fan’s alarm. But the alarm didn’t go off because it had been disabled. Stewart and Finn point out:

Had the widows of the miners known about the memo at the time it was written, they could have used it to hold the coal company accountable for their husbands’ deaths.

Instead, most reached a $10,000 settlement with the coal company.

Shortly after Farmington, Congress passed mine-safety legislation, and we’ve seen mining’s death toll drop. But corners are still being cut on mine safety, and mineworkers are still losing their lives.

In other news:

Salt Lake Tribune: Veterans are calling for the release of a memo that describes the health risks faced by service members stationed at an Iraq base with a massive “burn pit” – but the U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventative Medicine says the information in it would damage national security.

Bloomberg News Service: FDA employees have written to House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair John Dingell saying managers “ordered, intimidated and coerced FDA experts to modify their scientific reviews, conclusions and recommendations” on medical devices being reviewed by the agency. 

The Australian: Workers who cleaned and repaired fuel tanks on F-111 fighter jets were found to have elevated risks of cancer, depression, anxiety, and other physical and mental ailments. The Australian government acknowledged the problem and agreed to compensate workers, but a parliamentary inquiry has now been launched to see if that’s really happening.

Austin-American Statesman: The Texas chapter of the National Nurses Organizing Committee seeks legislation to establish a nurse-patient ratio and strengthen whistleblower protection for nurses who call attention to unsafe conditions.

NIOSH: The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health is seeking input on its Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program, which investigates line-of-duty firefighter deaths and develops recommendations for preventing deaths and injuries in the future.

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