CREDIT: Coal miners in Alabama.
Three U.S. coal miners died in just three days this weekend, a string of consecutive accidents that hasn’t occurred in 10 years and that one official called “troubling.”
The miners, who were working in West Virginia, Illinois and Wyoming, respectively, died from different causes — one was hit on the head by a piece of equipment, another died in a motorized cart accident and another, who was nodding off, drove off a 150-foot high wall. Federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) chief Joe Main said the deaths were troubling, especially because they occurred over the weekend — a time when there’s a “greater expectation an MSHA inspector would not be present.”
The deaths also come in the midst of a government shutdown that has forced the Department of Labor to cut its MSHA staff in half. Only 750 inspectors for the U.S. Department of MSHA are working during the shutdown, less than half the number of staff usually performing mine inspections. There isn’t any indication that the shutdown was related to the miners’ deaths — a Department of Labor spokesperson told Huffington Post that “investigators had been in two of the three mines just prior to the accidents.” But that doesn’t mean the shutdown hasn’t increased the dangers of an already dangerous field — as Huffington Post reports, the agency has had to stop its basic quarterly inspections of underground mines and biannual inspections of surface mines.
The deaths also highlight another reason why the U.S. should transition away from coal as an energy source. Though coal mining deaths have drastically decreased since the first part of the 20th century, 2011 saw 21 coal miners killed in accidents while 2012 saw 19. Coal miners are vulnerable to respiratory diseases like Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and pneumoconiosis. Luckily, the U.S. is beginning to move away from coal — many utility companies are planning on scaling down their coal production in the coming years, and the largest coal-fired plant in New England will soon shut down.