April 15, 2009 The Pump Handle 1Comment

Last summer, a fire in an illegal coal mine in China’s Hebei province killed 35 workers – and the mine owners managed to conceal the tragedy for three months. The New York Times’ Sharon LaFraniere reports:

The mine owner paid off grieving families and cremated the miners’ bodies, even when relatives wanted to bury them. Local officials pretended to investigate, then issued a false report. Journalists were bribed to stay silent. The mine shaft was sealed with truckloads of dirt.

“It was so dark and evil in that place,” said the wife of one miner who missed his shift that day and so was spared. “No one dared report the accident because the owner was so powerful.”

Indeed, the Lijiawa mine tragedy might still be an official non-event, but one brave soul reported the cover-up in September on an Internet chat site. The central government in Beijing stepped in, firing 25 local officials and putting 22 of them under criminal investigation. The results of the inquiry are expected this month.

Mine safety has improved in China, but the official death toll is still high: an average of nine miners died in Chinese mines every day in 2008. A count that included the unreported deaths would be even higher.

In other news:

Nieman Watchdog: Journalists in Mexico, facing the threat of violence from drug cartels, self-censor themselves to survive. Over the past nine years, more than 30 journalists have either been killed or disappeared.

Congressman Rick Boucher: The US House of Representatives has approved the Free Flow of Information Act, which protects journalists from being compelled to reveal their confidential news sources.

Army Times: Several members of Congress are seeking more information about risks posed to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan by “burn pits” such as the one at the Balad Air Base. An independent scientist they hired to review a military study reported that troops exposed to burn pit fumes face “significant danger.”

Washington Post: Some employees at the new headquarters of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission have complained of headaches, dizziness, and respiratory problems. A test in one room found a formaldehyde level that falls below OSHA’s standard but above NIOSH’s recommended level.

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health: Researchers are still developing techniques for assessing workers’ exposures to indoor air pollutants and the related potential health risks.

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