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Incidents put industry in negative light

By |  August 12, 2015

A few recent incidents have cast a negative light on the aggregates and mining industries. When such events reach the public eye, the effects could be, among other things, stepped enforcement by the Mine Safety & Health Administration (MSHA) and increased difficulty in obtaining mining permits at the local level.

On Aug. 3, three miners were killed in separate incidents at operations in Nevada, North Dakota and Virginia. The highest-profile fatality of the three, a national news story, occurred at a Luck Stone aggregates operation in Virginia when a silo collapse killed an 18-year-old worker.

In response, MSHA held a conference call in which Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for Mine Safety and Health, expressed his concern over the alarming number of recent deaths.

“In the past month alone, there have been five fatalities in the metal and nonmetal industry. Not since 2002 have three miners died in a single day in this mining sector. We cannot – we will not – accept this turn of events,” Main said.

Owing to the incidents, the agency this week began beefed-up inspections with a focus on violations commonly associated with mining deaths, and federal inspectors are emphasizing “walk and talks” with miners and operators to disseminate information on fatalities and best practices for preventing them.

The other major incident occurred at a gold mine in Colorado when a team from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) accidentally destroyed a dam that was holding back a tailing pond, thereby spilling toxic mine waste water.

The U.S. Geological Survey has reported the size of the spill to be more than 3 million gallons, compared with the initial EPA estimate of 1 million gallons. The spill has turned the Animas River a mustard-yellow color that now extends through southern Colorado and into New Mexico.

Sampling done last week shows levels of lead, arsenic, beryllium, cadmium and mercury are extremely high, and toxicologists say there could be health effects for many years to come. Exposure to high levels of these metals can cause an array of health problems from cancer to kidney disease to developmental problems in children.

While the environmental disaster didn’t take place at an aggregates operation and was actually triggered by the EPA, high-exposure incidents like this make citizens reluctant to have a mine – any type of mine – in their community.

The recent fatalities and Colorado mine disaster demonstrate that mining can still be a dangerous activity and sometimes a threat to the environment. It’s all the more reason for aggregate operations to be proactive in community-relations efforts.

The majority of the aggregate operations we visit go to great lengths to protect workers and the local environment. And most producers do it not because they are required to do so but because they want to. Show your neighbors the steps you take to keep workers safe and the environment healthy.

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About the Author:

Darren Constantino is an editor of Pit & Quarry magazine. He can be reached at dconstantino@northcoastmedia.net.

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