August 22, 2010 Liz Borkowski, MPH 19Comment

An August 5th collapse at the San Jose gold and copper mine in Chile’s Atacama region trapped 33 miners hundreds of meters underground. Rescue teams had been drilling toward a refuge site, where it was hoped the miners had been able to take shelter – and earlier today, a probe sent down into the mine came back with a note saying “all 33 of us are fine in the shelter.”

Chileans have flocked to plazas to celebrate, and the newspaper La Tercera compares it to the delight that greeted Chile’s World Cup wins. After 17 anxious days of waiting for news, the miners’ families are overjoyed.

It will still take a while for teams to be able to extricate the miners, but they can at least get air, water, and food gels down to them, and allow them to exchange messages with their families.

It’s wonderful news, and a reminder that mine refuge chambers and well-prepared mine rescue teams save lives.

19 thoughts on “33 Chilean Miners Alive After 17 Days

  1. According to reports it may take _four months_ to dig down to them. The logistics of keeping them all healthy and sane through a narrow pipe for such a long period must be very troublesome. But so far so good.

  2. Yeah, that’s a very long time, and you’re right that it’ll be hard to maintain mental health, as well as physical health. Being able to communicate with the outside world will help to some extent, but it’ll still be tough.

  3. Send down 33 Nintendo DS’s and some extra batteries, and they won’t even know they’re down there. At least, my son is always complaining that an hour goes by SO FAST when playing video games. 😉

  4. The mine had inaccurate maps, which hampered efforts to find the safety chamber. Major concerns beyond mental health are: longterm exposure to high temperatures and quality of the air and water supply. The main ventilation duct is damaged. Secondary vent supply wasn’t mentioned, but the 33 miners must be getting make-up air with supply turnover from somewhere, because sauna-like temps in the mine push respiration rates up and would otherwise saturate the the confined 500-foot refuge area with CO2 in a matter of days.

    The resourceful minors used equipment to dig a trench to collect water, however thinking about dissolved minerals and metals in these mines, makes it dicey as to potability. It also suggests emergency food and water supplies were exhausted sometime ago. No comments were made on sanitation, probably because it’s low on the list of concerns.

    Reports suggest the mine is structurally unsound, and in a ‘fragile state’, but details weren’t provided. This is a concern, as central coastal Chile is constantly being hit by earthquakes due to regional subduction zone and faulting geology.

    Rescuers should lower gas sensors and a thermometer to ascertain refuge environment conditions. Pretty sure it’s sauna-like.

  5. Yes, I’ve been wondering about the sanitation! I haven’t seen anything so far, and would appreciate a link if anyone finds anything (in English or Spanish). Temperature and air quality are definitely concerns, and I hope they’re able to get some kind of monitoring equipment down there.

  6. 2nd bore hole reaches 33 trapped in Chile mine. Assoc Press
    Aug 24, 2010

    The minors lived on scant food supply and water, eating and drinking every other day. They’re dehydrated and very hungry, but can’t receive solid food just yet as their digestive systems aren’t ready. Dehydration and lack of tears to clear away dust debris also explains the miners urgent request for ‘something for their eyes’.

    Now we know why sanitation wasn’t an issue – but it will be, shortly. Air quality is an problem, as expected. The miners complained of very poor quality of the trapped air in the spiraling main tunnel below the collapse points midway in depth. Oxygen cannisters have been lowered to the miners; an air line (safer than pure oxygen) and vacuum line should be installed with intakes at opposite ends of the room to facilitate air turnover.

    Ambient temperature in the refuge is in the low 90s, and it’s probably quite humid, from leaking water.

    Sending down sweat-wicking clothing and changes of underwear, with sanitary wipes would be a good idea as they can be tightly rolled to facilitate delivery down the small radius bore holes. Sanitation issues will be a challenge, as the miners attempt to maintain health under exceptionally stressful conditions.

    Lack of light should be addressed with LED flashlights and batteries – low heat source. Prolonged absence of light upsets Circadian rhythms and adding to crowding, heat and inadequate air quality as physical and mental health stressors.

    Sending down tiny MP3 players with headphones, that carry recorded music selected by friends and families, will do much to relieve mental boredom and calm frayed nerves as the miners wait for rescue.

    It was a nice touch to read that a Chilean mining magnate has donated $10,000 dollars to each of the miners families.

  7. Being able to read Spanish helps:

    “Hay que montar condiciones de sanidad muy estrictas para que no se produzca una infección que es un temor muy grande respecto de lo que viene”. We have to create strict sanitary conditions to prevent an infection.

    Por ahora, el alcohol gel que se les envió en las primeras “palomas” (cápsulas) les ayudará a disminuir las posibilidades de contraer infecciones severas por hongos. For now, we have sent alcohol gel in the first “palomas” (long plastic rescue capsules they slide up and down the access tube) to minimize the possibility of fungal infections. (90 or so degrees and damp!)

    “la dieta se tiene que manejar con cuidado, para no elevar el perímetro de su cintura sobre los 90 centímetros y que produzca la menor cantidad de deposiciones posibles”. the diet will have to be managed carefully, to keep them thin enough to slide out the rescue hole, and to produce the minimum quantity of “deposits” possible. (so it sounds like a low-bulk, calorie restricted diet).

    BTW, the miners requested baby wipes, clean undies, and a beer.

  8. The Chilean mine collapse support folks are thinking along parallel lines with comments here. Maybe they have this site bookmarked.

    To add to the latrine pit: send down absorbent material to dry waste material and stifle odor. The latrine will cause odor and health problems, otherwise, because of the extreme humidity. Send down heavy duty garbage bags to line the pit and tie it off afterwards.

    Don’t be so quick to advise use of antidepressants for those that can’t sleep. Send down vitamin D supplements and small dose melatonin supplements, and cheap watches with alarms that can be set to help the miners keep regular ‘daytime’ hours with lights.

    Send down inflatable pads and pillows for the men to sleep on. It will make getting adequate rest easier. The news article diagram suggests they have just one cot/mattress among 33 men. Sleeping in trucks can’t be that comfortable; 9 trucks can only sleep about 20 men at most.

    One useful activity that the men can engage in: discussing the observations made in the weeks or days and immediately before the collapse, and write them down, to help mine safety investigators above ground. Jogging observational memory now, when the men are isolated and have time to think back on events, would be a good idea, rather than later, after they are rescued.

    Rather than sending down packets of water, lower clear weighted plastic tubing to refill the water barrel with fresh clean water. The trickle-fill approach will take a while, but it allows the men to become better hydrated than limited water supply daily from the surface. Along with emergency rations, it supplies a critical survival need, just in case something happens during one of the many earthquakes in the area and the supply bore holes are damaged, in the weeks-to-months ahead.

  9. These are all great points, and I hadn’t thought about the Vitamin D issue. The thing about the need to stay thin enough to get up a narrow opening is now one of the featured stories on Yahoo.

  10. News article on the logistics of rescue borehole drilling program, with photographs of the special equipment and a diagram of the operation.

    Rescuers face tough challenge to save Chile miners.

    Major brownie points for the South African company donating the large Strata 950 Raise boring drill.

    Equipment specs and brief description of the drilling technology

    (RUC Cementation Mining Contractors a subsidiary company of Murray and Roberts International, the South African company that has donated the Strata 950 for this rescue mission).

    If Murray and Roberts would construct a special relief and rescue website hosted on their corporate server, to report on technical aspects and progress of this operation, I believe it would be very good business karma as reward.

  11. Many Chilean miners smoke cigarettes – certainly not a good idea for an occupation with high degree of morbidity and mortality from lung disease.

    Now the trapped miners are asking for cigarettes. Rescue officials are considering their request and alternatives, like nicotine gum.

    The miners have been trapped for 20+ days, in very poor air quality conditions and temperatures that are dangerous at high humidity for extended periods of time.

    Smoking is not an option, with limited ventilation. Nicotine gum, in limited quantities, would be OK, providing the men chewed it early in the day, because it can disturb sleep patterns and induces hypoxic tolerance.

    Since we have mentioned heat-stress that is potentially lethal for extended periods, it might be good idea to find cheap personal fans, the tiny ones that you can hold to your face, that are run by batteries.

    Even a few hours a day of running these fans will provide a degree of cooling to the head and torso, can be an important physical and psychological aid in coping with omnipresent wet heat. Used before sleep, they will induce deeper sleep for a few hours; heat can make it difficult to sleep because the body cools through reduced blood flow to the extremities as a prerequisite signal for sleep induction.

    Nicotine speeds up the heart and metabolic rate (slightly, less in heavily adapted smokers), and like eating late at night, which also raises body temperature, can thus interfere with sleep duration and quality.

    Psychological stress is worst under constant physical and mental stressor loading: damp heat, boredom, anxiety, disruption of sleep cycles and hypoxia.

    We’re glad to hear that the requested NASA specialist team will arrive in Chile soon. Their first step should be to axe sending down of cereal bars (first solid food offered to the miners). There are better choices for calorie controlled meals that will boost miner immune function, if risk of fungal infection is an issue.

  12. Give them cigarettes. Considering the circumstances and the length of time they will be in this situation it may be one of the last thing they do. Press releases state that they will not be out of the mine until October or November. What is the probability that they will survive?

  13. The probability of survival is close to 100%, as long as they are able to remain relatively well nourished, hydrated and calm.

    While nicotine is a form of self-medication for depression and cognitive/attention difficulties, giving the miners cigarettes will worsen their sunlight-deprived condition and worsen lung damage from dust and risk of lung fungal infection because smoking also seriously impairs lung natural immunity.

    Cigarette tars block liver and kidney microsomal Cytochrome P450 enzymes involved in position-25 hydroxylation of vitamin D2, which is produced in the skin by exposure to sunlight. The liver and kidney P450s convert biologically less active vitamin D2 to D3, which binds to key vitamin D receptors in the brain and lymph tissue in lungs.

    Six of the minors are said to be experiencing clear signs of depression, are withdrawn and not eating. Smokers are depressed whether or not they smoke daily, because of a variety of direct damaging cell effects in lungs, and secondary effects in liver, CNS, heart and various secretory organs like pancreas and gallbladder. The miners are in nicotine withdrawal. Patches should be the last resort, per my previous post.

    These men have had and will have no break to clear dust from their lungs for the duration of the time they are in the mine. Suspended dust micro-particulates will get worse as the rescue effort drilling progresses. That is one of the reasons I recommended engineering air turnover.

    The miners are not stupid. They know how long it takes to drill – they’ve watched it being done in various mining operations, including the newer and larger mine next door. The more experienced miners will have guessed that rescue tunnel drilling will take weeks to months.

    The one good piece of news is the mining engineers estimate of deep tunnel temperatures was off by 10 degrees, it’s a more bearable 85 degrees, but still quite humid.

  14. >Men suffering severe skin irritation from the hot, wet conditions underground have been sent quick-dry clothing; others have been sent mats to sleep on to protect them from the damp ground. The men have also been sent mp3 players to allow them to listen to music.

    Good. We are ‘in sync’.

    Please send the men toiletries kits. It sounds daft, but when we feel clean and neat every day, more like normal, it does wonders for making us feel less isolated and helpless, when conditions are largely beyond our control. Fights depression and enforces self-care.

    The men need tasks to put them in an active role in their recovery. They know the mine and the quality of the rock as it descends. They should be able to provide input to mining engineers, especially on the location of interior faulting and changes in rock face density. Activities should include close inspection, with videos, of the tunnel wall and ceiling conditions below the failure point.

    Let’s try a long shot.

    Talk to the geologists at the USGS (NASA can identify agency logistical centers) about using remotely deployed sensors from within the mine to obtain an depth-density mapped 2- or 3-D image of the intervening rock, using drilling vibration wave delay and variable sensor location within the deep chamber. Like a sonogram. If the recording sensor equipment is sufficiently small to fit down the borehole, this would be invaluable to mining engineers.

    Even if drill vibrational waves are unable to penetrate deeply, simply having the miners go through the actions will do much to bolster interest by providing ‘useful work’ for an 1-2 hours each day.

    The men need to be thinking about where and how to store drilling debris. Simple dust masks are essential.

    Encourage the men to maintain a schedule of rising, eating, exercise, work and cleaning, for 5 days and add variable tasks on days 6 and 7, to fix weekly schedule.

    Have the men count their pulse and breathing, first thing on rising, to track stress effects of confinement, once a baseline pattern is established.

  15. One more item: if a portion of the men are used to attending mass regularly on Sunday or/or during the week, arrange for clergy to hold mass with them, remotely, using your landline and speaker phone OR by recording mass and sending down MP3 recordings for remote participation.

    The men should be allowed to speak/pray to/with clergy regularly.

    Maintaining daily spiritual activities will be very important for mental health support.

  16. Well, the estimates of the required labor for removing the mining debris as the rescue boring project proceeds answer the question of how to keep them preoccupied and engaged.

    Chile miners must move tons of rocks in own rescue.
    August 29, 2010. AP International

    “The miners are going to have to take out all that material as it falls,” Andres Sougarret, Codelco’s head engineer on the operation, told The Associated Press in a phone interview.

    In all, the trapped miners will have to clear between 3,000 and 4,000 tons of rock, work that will require crews of about a half-dozen men working in shifts 24 hours a day.

    The men have basic clearing equipment, such as wheel barrows and industrial-sized battery-powered sweepers, Sougarret said. The hole will likely end up several hundred yards (meters) from their living area in the mine’s shelter, giving the men room to maneuver and store the rocks, he added.

  17. An unknown subset of the trapped miners are smokers. Probably most of them. You do NOT provide glucose tablets to individuals who are pre-diabetic. The miners haven’t lost fat, they have lost muscle mass, and this makes them more prone to injury and infection than had they been consuming adequate protein and *complex carbohydrates*, such as vegetables.

    The physicians supervising the miners health are not thinking clearly. The miners must move 4+ tons of drilling debris, five shifts a day. They will be working morning and night. They need to have muscle power to do this task. They have been basically starved for 25 days and they remain inadequately hydrated.

    They need protein drinks with complex carbohydrates and a lot of extra water, or they will be in bad shape when they finally pulled up.

    Fortunately, geologist and mining engineers have reported that the rock quality is very good, and so if we are lucky, the rescue bore hole walls will resist failure.

    Debris removal. One way to reduce the inevitable choking dust is to use a tarp-type chute and wire stand that places the plastic sheath as close to the ceiling height as possible and directs debris down and into open bed of the men’s trucks. They have 6 on hand. The truck beds are covered in tarps with ropes. Loaders can be used to pull and slide the mounded dirt on tarps off the trucks, reducing the need for shoveling and speeding up debris handling.

    I think the tubes deployment used for sending down supplies is wide enough to accommodate tightly rolled tarps, rope and straight thick wire pins that can be used to make the dust containment sheath. Reasonably sure the miners have simple tools on hand. The trucks run in pairs.

    Air supply should be pumped down continuously to refresh oxygen and remove dust and engine fumes.

    A risky operation remains: fuel must be supplied for operating vehicle and loader equipment underground; it’s doubtful there is enough on hand for the next several months. Reinforced gas resistant hoses must be lowered to supply fuel. It should be done before the heavy large drilling starts, to minimize conflagration risk.

    We are still having a hard time understanding the cause(s) of the tunnel failure and why debris removal with tunnel reinforcement isn’t possible. Remotely operated robots with cameras should be deployed to assess risk of rescue by conventional means, which would be considerably faster than boring.

  18. Progress again. One of the small supply boreholes is being widened, a prudent move. The men have been supplied with personal care products and have shaved and cut their hair, which helped morale immediately.

    Their families today marked the passage of one month since the mining accident. Videolinked conversation with various miners shows some evidence of stress and anger, as they are beginning to realize that they will not be rescued soon.

    Not a surprise, and it shouldn’t be discouraged, but rather encouraged, when the men are shown how to work through their emotions, by acknowledging it, but not fixating on these negative emotions.

    Reducing apathy and controlling negative, cyclic thoughts is essential to maintaining calm under difficult conditions, improving sleep quality (still an issue) and supporting immune health. We very, very much want to ease baseline cortisol level to allow the men to relax and sleep, despite the poor quality of the environment.

    We strongly encourage the rescue operations managers to find and enlist the services of a experienced psychologist specializing in Mindful Meditation training of the public. Daily instruction can be supplied by MP3 players; results can be expected in as little as 2 weeks with daily sessions of 30 minutes, twice per day. Total instruction period should be no less than 5-8 weeks.

    The sessions could be held in ‘shifts’ to help build cohesive, “can-do” group-think among the men, especially important for the 4 or 5 that are in self-enforced social isolation due to stress, nicotine withdrawal and depression.

    It will ease physical stress from laboring under poor ventilation conditions when round-the-clock work shifts commence to manage mining debris.

    One more thing: send down high-quality ear plugs for the men. It will help with sleep issues and provide short periods of ‘waking privacy’, but shouldn’t compromise safety.

    If the men continue to experience sleep deprivation from the heat, lights, and movement of others, consider supplying melatonin (small doses, please), magnesium citrate tablets and Valerian capsules, to help initiate sleep cycle approximately 1 hour before retiring.

    Don’t be surprised if the antidepressants supplied don’t work. One quarter or more of the men will probably have gene polymorphisms that make them poor drug metabolisers. It’s a common issue among the general populace and worse among smokers, who have several liver Cytochrome P450s induced from chronic xenobiotic exposure.

    More later.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.