The U.S. Department of Labor has cited 16 Utah mines accused of 59 cases of tampering with dust samples used to monitor miners' risk of black lung disease.
The Utah citations were part of a 20-month national investigation that uncovered some 4,700 instances of sample tampering at 847 coal mines, according to Labor Department statistics released Thursday.The news angered Utah mine workers but did not come as a surprise, said Bob Jennings, health and safety representative for the United Mine Workers of America.
"We're not shocked or surprised by the results. It's something we've suspected for many years," Jennings said in a telephone interview late Thursday afternoon.
Jennings said he has often discussed miners' concerns about the dust-sampling techniques with Labor Department officials. "We're always getting complaints from miners about how they do mine sampling."
Labor Secretary Lynn Martin has proposed that the federal government impose a record $5 million in fines against the companies that allegedly tampered with the dust samples. The proposed fines amount to $1,000 for each tampering violation, roughly $59,000 in fines against Utah mines. Criminal charges also could result.
"I am appalled at the flagrant disregard for a new law designed to protect coal miners against disabling lung disease," Martin said. "Altering test results could put lives in jeopardy. We must take strong enforcement action, both punitive and preventative."
Including the 16 Utah mines, 32 mines in the Rocky Mountain region were cited - 13 in Colorado, one in Montana and two in Wyoming. The greatest number of violations occurred in the East, including 301 violations at Kentucky coal mines, 243 in West Virginia and 144 in Virginia.
Of the Utah mines, the most alleged violations occurred at Price mines. The Labor Department reported 11 violations at the Star Point No. 2 mine, controlled by Cyprus Minerals Co. Ten citations were handed to the Pinnacle Mine, controlled by Andalex Resources of Nevada.
Helper's Belina No. 2 & Loadout mine, which is controlled by Quaker State Corp., also was cited for 10 alleged incidents of tampering.
Representatives of neither the Utah mines nor the Utah Mining Associations could be reached for comment Thursday night.
But national industry officials disputed the Labor Department's findings. Said Richard Lawson, president of the National Coal Association at a Thursday press conference: "We, frankly, can't believe that this is tampering. There have to be some other kind of reasons involved. We don't understand it."
Federal law intended to protect miners' health requires the nation's coal mine operators to take approximately 92,000 airborne dust samples each year.
The tests utilize a sampling pump to collect respirable dust from the mine air in a sealed, preweighed filter cassette about the size of a silver dollar. The cassette filters are submitted to the Mine Safety and Health Administration for analysis. The amount of dust collected on the cassette's filter is used in determining whether an operator has complied with dust standards established to protect miners from lung disease.
Breakdown of Labor Department citations
Mine Location Controlling company Samples
Pinnacle Price Andalex Resources, Nev. 10
Aberdeen Price Andalex Resources, Nev. 1
Apex Price Andalex Resources, Nev. 4
Trail Mountain No. 9 Orangeville Atlantic Richfield Co. 1
Gordon Creek No. 8 Carbon County Atlantic Richfield Co. 1
Southern Utah Fuel Salina Coastal Corp. 1
Skyline Mine No. 1 Scofield Coastal Corp. 3
Star Point No. 2 Price Cyprus Minerals Co. 11
Emery Emery Du Pont E I De Nemours & Co. 2
Cottonwood Huntington Pacificorp 5
Deer Creek Huntington Pacificorp 3
Belina No. 2 & Loadout Helper Quaker State Corp. 10
Bear Canyon No. 1 Huntington Bill W. Stoddard et al. 1
Soldier Canyon Price Sun Co. Inc. 3
Sunnyside No. 1 Sunnyside Sunnyside Mines Inc. 1
Crandall Canyon Huntington Charlie Vaughn 2