Massey Gets Away With Murder: Time To Revoke their Charter
Of the twenty-nine men killed, nineteen died as a result of carbon monoxide intoxication and ten as a result of injuries suffered in the explosion.
One week later, former Governor Joe Manchin asked J. Davitt McAteer, an assistant secretary of labor in charge of mine safety in the Clinton administration, to conduct an independent investigation into the causes of the disaster and issue recommendations to prevent similar tragedies in the future.
McAteer and his colleagues—experts in coal mining, mining law, mining communities and occupational safety and public health—released their report last month after conducting underground investigations for over six months and conducting more than 300 interviews. Eighteen corporate officials from Massey Energy and its subsidiary Performance Coal—which ran the UBB mine—invoked the Fifth, declining to be interviewed in order to protect from self-incrimination.
Although it received insufficient media attention, the 126-page Governor’s Independent Investigation Panel (GIIP)report released last month is damning in its conclusion: “Ultimately, the responsibility for the explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine lies with the management of Massey Energy. The company broke faith with its workers by frequently and knowingly violating the law and blatantly disregarding known safety practices.”
The investigation concludes that the explosion occurred when a spark—which occurs frequently when cutting coal due to friction—ignited an explosive accumulation of methane, causing a fireball. The fireball in turn ignited coal dust that had been allowed to build up, and the coal dust carried the explosion throughout more than two miles of the mine.
Massey’s blatant disregard for safety had created a perfect storm.
The methane and coal dust accumulated because of an inadequate ventilation system—the same one Quarles and so many of his co-workers had complained resulted in “no air” circulating where they were mining. The coal dust remained hazardous due to inadequate “rock dusting” which is used to render coal dust inert—Massey only had two men responsible for dusting the entire mine on a part-time basis, when the size justified a two-man crew assigned solely to rock dusting on at least two shifts every day. Finally, the fire spread due to Massey’s failure to maintain vital safety equipment—missing or clogged water sprays could have doused the fire at the point of ignition.
And Massey had ample warnings about these safety problems.
“Pre-shift examinations” between January and April 2010 identified 1,834 instances when rock dusting was needed, and only 302 times when it was performed—in fact, fireboss Michael Elswick, who was killed after just four days on the job, reported that the conveyor belts needed to be cleaned and dusted just one-half hour before the explosion. Also, in fourteen out of fifteen months preceding the disaster, UBB received citations from federal or state inspectors regarding rock dust issues, and nearly half of the forty federal citations were classified as “significant and substantial.” In the months leading up to the explosion, one Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) inspector pulled workers from a section due to inadequate airflow, a MSHA ventilation specialist warned Massey of “a dangerous situation,” and a foreman was told by management to “ignore a citation” the mine received for faulty ventilation. Finally, a foreman who stopped his crew from working for one hour while trying to address ventilation problems was suspended for three days due to “poor work performance” (the executive who suspended him, Jason Whitehead, refused to cooperate with the investigation and was promoted to Massey’s vice president of Underground Operations several months after the disaster).
Even the autopsy reports were stunning in terms of what they revealed about Massey’s reckless disregard for dust control—twenty-four victims were tested for black lung disease caused by coal mine dust, and seventeen came back positive. The national prevalence rate in the United States among active underground miners is 3.2 percent, and the rate in West Virginia is 7.6 percent.
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Inadequate ventilation, poor rock dusting, shoddy maintenance—twenty-nine miners dead.
Where is the justice? Where are the jail terms?
So far, just Massey’s chief of security has been indicted—and that was for lying to the FBI and obstructing the criminal investigation. What about the top brass who insisted that the miners keep running coal even as they rightly feared that basic safety standards were being ignored?
Full article. Emphasis mine.
Read the report from the investigation.
Sign the Petition to revoke Massey’s Charter.
In the end, Gunnoe asked the House Committee members to put their illusive job rhetoric into perspective and grasped the magnitude of the human rights crisis in the coalfields: “How could anyone say that these temporary jobs is worth the permanent displacement of our people and the destruction of their waters, mountains and culture?”
She concluded: “”My nephew reminds me of what surface mining looks like from a child’s eyes. As we were driving through our community he looks up and says, ‘Aunt Sissy, what is wrong with these people? Don’t they know we live down here?’ I had to be honest with him and say, ‘Yes, they know. They just simply don’t care.”