Gazette photo by Lawrence Pierce
Forty-five years ago this morning, an explosion ripped through Consolidation Coal Co.’s No. 9 Mine near the communities of Farmington and Mannington, W.Va. Seventy-eight miners were killed, and the bodies of 19 of the victims remain entombed where they had worked.
It’s popular at this time of year to remember Farmington, and to note that its legacy was the passage a year later by Congress of the 1969 federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act. It’s certainly true that this disaster — and the activism by miners and their families, along with many mine safety advocates — forced lawmakers to act. And there’s no question that conditions for miners have improved dramatically in many ways in the last 45 years.
But should a society that depends on miners — and champions them, claiming to honor and respect their work — be content with the progress that’s been made?
Should we be satisfied when, just a few days ago, two silver/gold miners were killed in an explosives incident at a Colorado mine that, as Howard Berkes reported for NPR, had a violations rate roughly twice the national average?
Should we be satisfied when coal miners continue to die in great numbers from black lung, a totally preventable disease, while the White House sits on a rule intended to stop these deaths and coal industry lawyers do everything they can to fight black lung benefits claimed filed by disabled miners?
Should we in West Virginia be satisfied, when only 4 percent of the mobile equipment used in our state’s underground mines — that’s 1 out of every 25 machines — is equipped with proximity detection technology that can save miners from death or serious injuries?
A little more than a month ago, the widow of a miner whose life could have been saved by proximity detection technology made an eloquent plea to the state Board of Coal Mine Safety, asking them to adopt a rule that would stop the next such death. Industry members of the board blocked the proposal. Board members have another meeting scheduled tomorrow. It’s at 10 a.m. at the Charleston Civic Center. Proximity detection rules aren’t even on their agenda for discussion …