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Recent Accidents Draw Attention to Mining Safety


12 U.S. coal miners were killed in an explosion this week. It's the nation's second worst coal mining disaster since 1984. But U.S. mines are far less dangerous than those in some other coal-producing countries.

Rescue workers tried desperately to save the lives of 13 American coal miners, after an explosion Monday trapped them 80 meters underground in Talmansville, West Virginia. In the end, 12 of the 13 men were found dead, most of them apparently overcome by toxic gasses.

Rick McGee a relative of one of the miners, said safety is always a worry. "A lot of people think that the coal mines [industry] has advanced so much from the past that is it not dangerous anymore. And it's a really dangerous job," he said.

In the U.S., federal and state inspectors check mines regularly, but rarely shut them down. The West Virginia mine where 12 people died this week had 208 safety citations last year.

"To ignore them means that people will be hurt and people will be killed," said Dan Kane with the United Mine Workers union.

And far more people are killed in other parts of the world. In the United States, 22 people died in coal mines in 2005. In China, the government reports more than 5,000 die every year, constituting about 80 percent of the world's coal-mining deaths, but only about 35 percent of coal production.

One explosion last February in northeast China killed more than 200 people.

The Chinese government promised to close thousands of mines this year to crack down on safety violations. But some say higher demand and higher prices for coal mean safety will be ignored. A report by an international mine workers union found 4.2 lives were lost per million tons of coal production in China in 2003.

The relative risk was even higher in Ukraine, where the death rate was 5.5 lives per million tons, even though Ukraine's coal production is just a fraction of China's. Scores have died in Ukrainian mines each year since the country's independence, when subsidies to the industry were slashed.

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