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Miners: Disabling Methane Detectors “Standard” At Massey Mines

July 20, 2010

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Miners say it was a common practice to disable methane detectors at Massey Energy Company coal mines, including the one in West Virginia where 29 miners died in April.

In recent days, multiple media reports have cited numerous cases of intentional disabling of methane detectors at several, mines including the Upper Big Branch where that fatal explosion went off. The stories quote miners who say it was common to bypass a detector, or to simply wrap a garbage bag around a device that was slowing down production of coal.

Chuck Nelson of Glen Daniel says he felt less safe when he saw it done on a so-called continuous mining machine.

"I did feel danger by not having a methane sniffer working on a continuous miner, but during that shift, you know, they didn't want to take time because it would cut into their production."

Massey refused a request for comment, but did release a statement admitting it had disabled one methane monitor at Upper Big Branch, just long enough to allow a piece of equipment to be moved.

Nelson, now retired on disability, says he saw the same practices at all of the Massey mines he worked at.

"I think it was a company-wide problem. I worked at six different Massey mines and it was pretty standard over all of those Massey mines."

Several miners and family members have testified to Congress that they were concerned about safety at the mine, but felt intimidated into not talking.

Davitt McAteer is leading a separate investigation on behalf of Governor Joe Manchin, and he says they have heard the same thing.

"We have interviewed some of the family members and some of the people and they have expressed some concerns about intimidation and about conditions at the mine."

Massey refused a request for comment, but did release a statement admitting it had disabled one methane monitor at Upper Big Branch, just long enough to allow a piece of equipment to be moved.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV