What comes to mind when you think of coal mining? If you're like me, coal mining means living in darkness and a cold hearted industry. Other words that come to mind are poverty and oppression. Coal mining is not a job that you dream about or get a degree for. People who are coal miners do not chose a life full of danger and repression, they get stuck with it. There are many dangers
that come along with coal mining
, not only for the workers, but for the environment. Coal mining and the coal industry have caused irreversible damage to our environment and has killed innocent miners.
In her book Coal A Human History, Barbara Freese states "The mundane mineral that built our global economyand even today powers our electrical plantshas also caused death, disease, and environmental destruction
" (front flap) Today, coal provides for more than 55% of the electricity generated in the U.S. (Cullen, Robert Vol.272) Coal miners have had one of the most dangerous jobs in history before government regulation. Many miners had to work underground for 10 + hours a day and 6 days a week(Cobb, James "Coal") The number of deaths per year is the equivalent of a Titanic going down in the nation's coal fields each year (Turkington, Carol) According to James Cobb from the World Book Online Reference Center mine safety involves four main types of problems including accidents involving machinery, roof and rib failures, accumulations of gases and concentrations of coal dust.
The accidents involving machinery kill and/or hurt more coal miners in a year than any other mining accident. The machinery in mines are located in cramped spaces with little light, causing miners to have two times the chance of accidents. The accidents involving roof and rib failures can usually be averted if a mining company has a roof support plan. For a roof support plan to be made, information like entry widths, mine geometry, the number of pillars that must be left up right, and the number of bolts that must be used are needed (Cobb 3 of 5) Accumulations of gases in underground coal mines is another very serious hazard. If certain gases like methane and carbon monoxide are at or above 5% in the air they can cause violent explosions. Blasting in coal mines are the main cause for such dangerous levels of carbon monoxide. These accumulations of gases can be avoided if the mine is properly ventilated by a powerful fan to circulate fresh air.
In October Sky, the large concentrations of coal dust are what caused Homer Sr. to develop a disease known as black lung. Black lung disease is also known as coal workers pneumoconiosis (Leigh, Paul J. 64) Black lung is an occupational disease, which means it is man-made and can be prevented. Just like Homer Sr. black lung victims die and agonizing death in isolated rural communities, away from the spotlight of publicity (Turkington, Carol) This disease targets the age group miners at or above 50. Black lung turns a healthy pink lung to black. The symptoms of black lung are breathlessness, spitting, and coughing. It is estimated that 1,500 former coal miners die of black lung each year (Turkington, Carol). U.S. congress ordered black lung to be eradicated from the coal industry in 1969(Turkington, Carol). While there is no treatment or cure for black lung, it is possible to treat the complications like lung infection. James Cobb noted "most mines use proper ventilation to remove most of the coal dust from the air, but mines use other dust control measures too. In the United States, federal law requires that underground mines be rockdusted. Mines also use water sprays to hold down the dust" ("Coal").
Government regulation plays a large role in setting and enforcing the safety standards for coal mines. There are national and regional governments used for enforcement. Government agencies help to regulate mine ventilation, coal dust, roof supports, and mining machinery(Cobb, James "Coal"). The regulation of coal dust concentrations cut the occurrence of black lung disease in half. The government has also provided benefits to help with financial and medical programs. Mines are more dangerous for workers if there is no government enforcing safety regulations.
The formation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was the 1st organization to be aware that coal burning is a public health threat. In 1970, the Clean Air Act was established to clean up the nation's air to healthy levels because the levels of Sulfur dioxide were out of control (Freese, Barbara 167). The largest source of the air pollutant Sulfur dioxide is from coal power plants. Sulfur dioxide causes smog, haze and acid rain. The evidence linked coal burning to a proportion of other pollution problems like to cause acid rain, smog, haze, mercury in fish, and deaths. Barbara Freese states" it is estimated that power plant emissions kill over 30,000 people a year, cause tens of thousands of hospitalizations, hundreds of thousands of asthma attacks, and millions of lost work days yearly. This means that coal burning kills as many people per year as traffic accidents. Burning coal takes more lives that digging coal takes"(175). In conclusion, coal mining is a dangerous and environmentally damaging industry that takes the lives of miners, innocent people, and animals and hurts our environment in ways that are irreversible.