June 1, 2012 Celeste Monforton, DrPH, MPH 5Comment

by Laredo, golden retriever dog

A weird story appeared on my Facebook page today.  It was written by somebody named “AP.”  The headline read: “Alpha introduces mine search-rescue dog in Va.”   I like working dogs just as much as the next canine, so I read the article.  Says that “Ginny” is a two-year old dutch-shepherd dog who weighs 48 pounds.

Get this, Mr. AP’s article says Ginny is:

“…the newest member of coal producer Alpha Natural Resources Inc.’s search-and-rescue team, trained to perform searches in both underground and surface mines.  Equipped with an infrared camera and atmospheric gas detector — along with her extraordinary sense of smell and unmatched agility — the Bristol-based company’s first four-legged employee has been trained since she was three days old to search for missing, trapped, injured or unresponsive humans in unstable conditions or confined areas.”

Mr. AP’s story includes a photo of Ginny.  Wow! she’s definitely my type with her exotic brindle coat.  Says she can catch a scent from a mile away.  (My old nose isn’t that good.)

But here’s the rub (something different from a belly rub):  All this publicity about Ginny is coming from a PR company called APCO Worldwide.  I’ve read about them and their long list of clients who needed help cleaning-up their image.  That would be polluters and manufacturers of dangerous products like tobacco.  In my house, we call fiction like that green-washing.  It looks like Mr. AP borrowed generously from APCO’s publicity materials about Ginny to write his “news” story.  One PR document said reporters could get

“b-roll of Ginny in action” and also “arrange for an interview with Ginny.”

She also has her own website and a blog.

Like green-washing, this smells like fur-washing to me…and wet dogs smell bad.

As Alpha Natural Resources’ parades Ginny around in-person and on its website—and probably pays big money for the publicity—the coal mine company isn’t fixing deadly hazards in its mines.  Mr. Ken Ward, Jr. at Coal Tattoo (who likes cats, but I won’t hold that against him) has been reporting on terrible safety problems at some of Alpha’s coal mines. Today Mr. Ward writes about a burning coal conveyor belt at the company’s Road Fork No. 51 Mine in Wyoming County, WV.   Some of MSHA’s coal inspectors went to the mine to investigate and they issued an imminent danger order.  The inspectors had discovered that the mine managers had kept the workers underground mining coal while thick black fire-smoke was coming off the rubber conveyor belt.  The managers didn’t follow their evacuation plan and didn’t follow their fire fighting plan.  This is really bad.   Shouldn’t Alpha be putting more effort into making its mines safe?  Seems like showing off their new mine rescue dog might be  a plan to distract us from wondering what they’re doing to actually prevent miners needing rescue in the first place.  I’m not sure Ginny the dutch shepherd is old enough to understand fur-washing, but this sounds like a bad, bad case of it.

This really makes me scratch myself.  How could a company take such risk with dogs’ best friend?  The CEO Mr. Kevin Crutchfield has to remember what happened to Mr. Ellery Hatfield, 47 and Mr. Don Bragg, 33, at the Massey Energy Aracoma Alma mine, right?  Those two coal-mine workers died because the Massey mine management didn’t evacuate the mine during a conveyor belt fire.

Now I read via my Charleston Gazette Twitter feed about the disaster that could have happened at this Road Fork 51 mine.  Did Alpha Natural Resources management not learn from the Upper Big Branch disaster?  At this Road Fork 51 mine, inspectors found:

Accumulations of explosive coal dust of 16 to 18 inches high around and under at least two different conveyor belts in the mine.   (I’m a big canine, but even I’d be dragging my belly through 18 inches of coal dust.)

Inoperable carbon monoxide detectors and fire suppression systems that mine managers had not been properly inspected to ensure they were in working order.

As Mr. Ken Ward, Jr. reminded me, Alpha Natural Resources signed an agreement with the U.S. Attorney promising to implement a plan to ensure its coal mines have

“the personnel and resources necessary to meet all legal requirements relating to incombustible material and to prevent accumulations of coal dust and loose coal.”

What happened to that promise?

Alpha Natural Resources spent $8.5 Billion (that’s a lot of dog biscuits) to purchase Massey Energy in January 2011.  Alpha promised to transform the safety performance of “Massey legacy mines.”  That company will forever be remembered for causing the death in April 2010 of 29 good men—probably quite a few dog lovers—-at the Upper Big Branch mine.

You don’t need a dog’s super-sensitive nose to know something’s wrong at Alpha Natural Resources. It smells like fur-washing, and misplaced priorities, to me.

Laredo Monforton is an 8-year old golden retriever who was rescued from a shelter in Charlottesville, VA.  He is a Delta Society Pet Partner, and he volunteers two days per week at Travis Elementary and Hernandez Elementary in the San Marcos, TX School District’s Animal Reading Friends and Transitional Learning Programs.   





5 thoughts on “You’ve heard of ‘green-washing,’ what about fur-washing?

  1. Laredo’s crashed on his dog bed for the evening. Reading about Alpha Natural Resources’ safety problems tuckered him out. I’ll be sure to tell him in the morning that you’re glad he sniffed out the story.

  2. I am a retired industrial electrician (automotive industry not mining) and have some experience with industrial safety standards and practices. Most companies have different departments, often with different priorities, agendas, budgets, and authority within the company. Sometimes those different agendas align but oftentimes they represent opposing interests within the company. I don’t doubt that ANR has a safety department with some dedicated people and I don’t doubt that PR people have been tasked with promoting the companies safety initiatives. The real question is what kind of budget and support is ANR management giving to safety efforts. From what you have posted here, the answer is not nearly enough.

  3. Belgian Malinois … let’s be accurate on the breed. They are used by law enforcement for bomb and drug detection, among other functions. One of the breed actually helped the Navy seals track down Osama Bin Laden. I know this adds nothing to the story…but we own a Belgian Sheepdog and a Belgian Tervuren…really nice dogs.

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