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New Technology Could Save Miners' Lives


It is being called revolutionary in the field of mine safety. A West Virginia company has unveiled a new piece of technology that the company says could prevent most deaths from mining accidents. VOA's Jim Bertel reports from Capitol Hill.

In January 2006, a methane explosion trapped 12 miners at the International Coal Group's Sago mine in West Virginia. All but one died of carbon monoxide asphyxiation. It was the nation's worst mining accident in recent years.

This week on Capitol Hill, the West Virginia mine equipment company A.L. Lee Corporation, unveiled new technology that it claims could have saved the Sago miners' lives.

Company officials call it an underground rescue chamber. Congressman George Miller, a Democrat from California, is chairman of the Education and Labor Committee that oversees mine safety.

"It is a very exciting moment in the history of mine safety to now know that this will become the standard of care, the duty of care that the government and mining companies owe to those individuals that go down into the mines everyday," said Mr. Miller.

Most mine deaths occur due to lack of oxygen and the presence of carbon monoxide and other toxic gases. A.L. Lee Corporation officials say the emergency shelter contains enough oxygen, food, water and light sources for 35 miners to survive for up to 96 hours while they await rescue. The company is planning to build the chambers large enough to hold 50 miners.

The shelter is housed in a steel containment vessel. Inside are water, food and oxygen. The shelter inflates in about three minutes, and breathable air is immediately discharged into the shelter. The covering is made of five protective layers. The center layer is aluminum. The A.L. Lee Corporation says that guarantees that carbon monoxide cannot enter the chamber.

Congressman Nick Rahall represents the state of West Virginia. It is one of the largest coal producers in the U.S. It will be the first state to require that all mining companies equip their mines with rescue chambers like this within the next year.

"Protecting our nation's coal miners and improving their working conditions is a constant and ongoing process. And we can never say it is complete," said the congressman.

An A.L. Lee Corporation representative says the company plans to sell its chamber for $70,000 to $90,000 each and the International Coal Group that owns the Sago mine is buying $3 million worth. The coal company plans to begin deploying them in its mines this August.

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