Sago Mines Manslaughter

To the editor, Charleston Gazette:

Having worked in three quite different West Virginia union coal mines; as a young man in the 1940s; I am seething with anger over the murderous lack of enforcement, of long standing mine safety rules.

It was always essential, even sixty years ago, to maintain a continuous flow of air, across the work face, with a tightly controlled power ventilation system--these huge exhaust fans were a reassuring sight, and sound, throughout the coal fields. These fans were installed in a masonry wall blocking the entrance to one, of two or three, parallel tunnels--the two unblocked shafts, or "drift-mouths", served as entrance, and exit, for miners and coal. This produced a honey-comb like map; as breakthrough passages had to be opened between the main shafts, every 80 to 100 feet, so as to provide cross ventilation. The working pattern was more like stacked capitol "H"s than the "F" shape that was described in the Sago mine; this produced a "ladder" or trellis pattern as the mining progressed--all but the last rungs of the ladder were blocked with tightly constructed walls to prevent loss of air flow at the work sites; usually three "faces" were being worked by a section crew of about 12 men.

The Sago West Virginia miners were not killed by the explosion--they were slowly poisoned, and suffocated, by the resultant combustion gases which would have been readily evacuated by an adequate ventilation system--long before their emergency oxygen was depleted.

Please trace this gross lack of concern for the lives of coal miners to the "bottom-feeding/bottom-line" financial vulture -- and the enabling sweetheart federal administration who failed to enforce long standing safety regulations by softening violation penalties to wet noodles -- it was more profitable to pay the token fines than to operate a legally safe mine.

Capt Donald R. Maxey, ret

Korean War Veteran, 32d Inf

Retired HS Physics Teacher

Mount Airy, MD