Coal Tattoo

Friday roundup, Nov. 4, 2016

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In this Monday, Oct. 31, 2016 photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, rescuers work at Jinshangou Coal Mine in Chongqing, southwest China. Rescuers worked through the night at the privately owned Jinshangou mine where the explosion occurred before noon Monday, Xinhua News Agency reported. (Tang Yi/Xinhua via AP)

 

In this Monday, Oct. 31, 2016 photo released by China’s Xinhua News Agency, rescuers work at Jinshangou Coal Mine in Chongqing, southwest China. Rescuers worked through the night at the privately owned Jinshangou mine where the explosion occurred before noon Monday, Xinhua News Agency reported. (Tang Yi/Xinhua via AP)

Sadly, the story out of the coalfields of China didn’t end well earlier this week, when the rest of the miners trapped by an explosion were found dead.  Not surprisingly, the follow-up story reports:

Regulators found several safety violations in a coal mine in western China where 33 people died this week after being trapped underground in a gas explosion.

China’s State Administration of Work Safety said Wednesday the mine in the municipality of Chongqing was using outdated equipment and miners were sent more than 100 meters (328 feet) beyond the approved drilling area, causing gas to accumulate.

We’ve talked before on this blog about how workplace disasters in far-away places often make us get up on our high horse about how much
more advanced we are in the United States, and how that sort of cockiness may not be the best approach for encouraging safety and health in our domestic mining industry.

As if to remind us of that, the great Chris Hamby at BuzzFeed had this report on Wednesday:

One of America’s most renowned medical centers — The Johns Hopkins Hospital — intentionally defrauded hundreds of sick coal miners out of compensation and health benefits while pocketing large sums from coal companies, according to a class action lawsuit filed by the families of two coal miners who died of black lung disease.

The lawsuit, which also targets a longtime Hopkins doctor, draws heavily from revelations in an investigative report by the Center for Public Integrity, in partnership with ABC News, about a unit of radiologists who for decades provided coal companies with readings of miners’ X-rays. Those readings almost always said the miner didn’t have black lung, helping the companies avoid paying benefits under a program administered by the federal government.

…  The investigative report found that the longtime leader of the unit, Dr. Paul Wheeler, had read X-rays in more than 1,500 cases but never once found a case of severe black lung. Other doctors, looking at the same films, found evidence of the disease hundreds of times. Wheeler’s credentials and longtime affiliation with Johns Hopkins often trumped those of the other doctors, however, and administrative judges credited his reports to deny more than 800 claims … The investigation found that in more than 100 cases, biopsies or autopsies proved Wheeler wrong.

FILE - In this Oct. 22, 1966 file photo, rescue workers shovel the wet coal waste 28 hours after it slipped down the man-made mountain of coal waste and engulfed the Pantglas Junior School, and some houses, in Aberfan, Wales. Fifty years ago on Friday Oct. 21, 2016, an avalanche of mine waste swept down on a Welsh village and killed 116 children and 28 adults. Britain recalls the disaster that led to tougher rules on safety and fed a distrust of government that continues to this day. (AP Photo/File)

In this Oct. 22, 1966 file photo, rescue workers shovel the wet coal waste 28 hours after it slipped down the man-made mountain of coal waste and engulfed the Pantglas Junior School, and some houses, in Aberfan, Wales. Fifty years ago on Friday Oct. 21, 2016, an avalanche of mine waste swept down on a Welsh village and killed 116 children and 28 adults. Britain recalls the disaster that led to tougher rules on safety and fed a distrust of government that continues to this day. (AP Photo/File)

Then, there was the 50th anniversary on Oct. 22 of the terrible disaster at Aberfan, Wales, described here by The Guardian:

Over the decades, the villagers of Aberfan have found many different ways to remember. For some it is comforting to gather together in public and they will attend Friday’s anniversary ceremonies alongside family and friends. Others prefer to stay indoors and mourn the loved ones they lost, at home, in private.

A number cannot ever bear to be in the Welsh village on 21 October and leave Aberfan every autumn. The fact that it is the 50th anniversary this time makes no difference.

“They just can’t stand to be here on the day,” said Jeff Edwards, who was the last of the children pulled alive from Pantglas junior school after thousands of tonnes of slurry, coal waste and tailings slipped from an unstable tip on the mountain above the village and engulfed the classrooms. “People grieve in different ways. That’s right and natural.”

At 9.15am on Friday it will be exactly half a century since the disaster – in October 1966 – claimed the lives of 144 people, 116 of whom were children aged between three months and 14 years. A minute’s silence will be observed in Wales, across the UK and in pockets around the globe.

The New York Times piece explained:

There had been warnings from the village in South Wales, which lived off the state-owned coal mines and under the huge mounds of waste and tailings they produced, but the government ignored them.

Fifty years ago, after days of hard rain, a mountain of coal waste and slurry slid through Aberfan in a black avalanche, crushing the town’s school in its path and killing 28 adults and 116 children.

At the inquest, when a child’s cause of death was listed as asphyxia and multiple injuries, one father famously said: “No, sir. Buried alive by the National Coal Board. That is what I want to see on the record.”

As we’ve reported, Aberfan certainly provided plenty of warning to the world — yet West Virginia didn’t listen, and six years later 125 people died at Buffalo Creek.

Also this week, the Beckley paper picked up on this story (previously reported by the Post-Gazette and Bloomberg BNA):

Papers have been filed in federal court in West Virginia seeking a class action lawsuit on behalf of about 2,000 nonunion retired miners who say CONSOL Energy Corp. wrongfully ended their health benefits.

Mountain State Justice, a non-profit law firm based in Charleston, filed the papers on Oct. 17.

Sam Petsonk, an attorney with the firm, said lifetime benefit plans were withheld or terminated by the company at the end of 2015.

 “What we are arguing is … the company promised to provide the benefits,” he said. “They made a promise … we have brought this class action lawsuit to enforce that promise to pay health care benefit to those retirees.”

Petsonk said the promise was verbal, but the miners declined to belong to a union because of that promise of benefits.

“They accepted the company’s verbal promises,” he said. “We are seeking for the company to restore those benefits after terminating them, to reestablish the insurance pool for these miners who were left out of it.”

Finally, as we head into the home stretch of the Election season, here’s an interesting piece that reports a “battered” coal industry is hoping for Donald Trump, but preparing for Hillary Clinton.