Montcoal mine explosion and other mining disasters

Image of the Farmington Mine Disaster in West Virginia of 1968. From Wikimedia Commons.

The West Virginia mine explosion is one of the worst mining disasters in living memory, and a mine explosion such as the Montcoal mine explosion takes a lot of fast cash to clear up.  Coal mining is a dangerous trade with a long and rich history in the U.S. and worldwide.

Coal dust is volatile and explosive

One of the principle dangers in mining for coal is the presence of explosive materials.  Per Wikipedia, coal dust can accumulate and be suspended in air by mining operations. One of the types of coal, bituminous (meaning it contains bitumen, a flammable, tar-like substance), is the most flammable and dangerous. If the area is not ventilated properly, a heat source can ignite the dust, causing catastrophic damage and loss of life.

Coal dust is not the primary cause of mine explosions, though. Methane and other gasses can cause an explosion equally well if exposed to sufficient heat.  Several gasses that can be released in coal are referred to as firedamp, which as the root of numerous mining disasters worldwide.

The worst mining disaster in US history

The worst mining disaster in U.S. history, referred to as the Monongah Mine Disaster, occurred outside of Monongah, West Virginia, on Dec. 6, 1907.  A total of 362 people, both adults and children (this was before child labor laws) were killed in the blast and ensuing fires, with only a single, solitary survivor.

Coal mining is a dangerous trade, and accidents in the line of duty have claimed thousands of lives worldwide. Where there is coal, there are mines and miners.  The worst mining disaster was at the Benxihu Colliery, in Benxi, Liaoning, China, in 1947, which claimed the lives of 1,549 people.  Mining disasters have higher prevalence in developing countries, though they still occur in the developed world.

Montcoal Mine explosion

The explosion that recently claimed the lives of at least 25 miners was, in all likelihood, a methane explosion.  Though mining is a dangerous trade, Massey Energy has culpability in the explosion, as the company had been cited numerous times for safety violations, as per the Huffington Post. As of April 8, rescue crews were being prevented from reaching areas that could hold the 4 potential survivors by pockets of dangerous gas. It isn’t known how likely it is that anyone had survived.


As per this post on CNN, the last four miners’ remains were discovered on Saturday, and the mine was being re-ventilated.  Explosive and flammable gas is still a danger, and until resolved will remain a danger to rescue workers. It is unknown how long it will be until the mine is reopened, and an investigation into the cause and further prevention will be conducted.

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