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MSHA report on Sago Disaster "doesn't change the deadly facts," UMWA's Roberts says

May 9, 2007
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For Immediate Release

May 9, 2006

Contact: Phil Smith
(703) 208-7241

MSHA report on Sago Disaster "doesn't change the deadly facts," UMWA's Roberts says

United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) International President Cecil E. Roberts issued the following statement today:

The report by the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) regarding the Sago Disaster of January 2, 2006, sheds some additional and important light on the events that caused the tragedy.

However, the MSHA report says that lightning is somehow the most likely cause of the ignition. The UMWA continues to believe that is a far-fetched theory and is unsupported by physical evidence found and examined in the mine.

We do not believe MSHA or anyone else has conclusively or satisfactorily demonstrated how a charge from a lightning strike over two miles away entered the sealed area of the mine without a conduit from the surface. It's also important to note that MSHA did not conclusively rule out a roof fall or other frictional activity as the cause of the ignition, which the UMWA believes is the most likely ignition source.

Nevertheless, I would add that since both the state and federal agencies have concluded that lightning probably caused this tragedy, the UMWA believes that emergency regulations must be immediately put in place nationwide that will mandate protection for miners working underground, up to and including withdrawal of miners from underground areas of a mine in the event of an approaching storm that may generate lightning.

Despite its conclusions about lightning being the cause of the ignition, MSHA's report does not contradict the UMWA's contention that whatever the source of the ignition, it was the conditions inside the mine at the time of the ignition that caused these 12 men to die.

They are not dead today because lightning struck over two miles away from the sealed area, nor are they dead because of frictional activity in the sealed area.

They are dead because substandard seals were approved by MSHA years ago and used in this mine; because a flawed ventilation plan was approved and implemented; because there was not a mine rescue team immediately available on the property; because there were inadequate functioning oxygen units available underground; and because there was no emergency refuge chamber for them to go to.

MSHA's report doesn't change these deadly facts. As I have repeatedly said, had MSHA followed the mandate of Congress and its own rules and regulations, and had the company been more concerned about safety than production, these 12 brave miners at Sago would be alive today. After the release of MSHA's report, I am even more convinced of that.

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