Miners urge use of refuge chambers at safety hearing

Up to 14 miners could have survived if airtight emergency refuge chambers had been available in two coal mine disasters in Kentucky and West Virginia two years ago, a lawyer testified at a Mine Safety and Health Administration hearing in Lexington, Ky., on Tuesday.

Attorney Tony Oppegard, representing families of five miners lost in the 2006 Darby LLC Mine explosion in Harlan County, urged MSHA officials to adopt a proposed rule calling for placing the rescue chambers in all underground mines.

In addition to the five miners who died in Harlan County in 2006, 19 more died the same year in an explosion at West Virginia's Sago Mine. Many of those lost in both disasters died of carbon monoxide poisoning after being trapped by the explosions — miners that Oppegard said could have survived if underground chambers had been available for them to take shelter.

Tracey North, whose father, Paris Thomas, was among those killed in the Darby Mine, also urged MSHA officials to move ahead with the proposed chambers.

"I hope this goes through ... for other miners, so their families don't have to experience the loss we have," she said.

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