Farmington Mine Disaster
Backstory and Context
On November 20th, 1968 at 5:30 am an explosion shook the mine, producing shockwaves that were felt several miles away. Miners living in the immediate area flocked to the scene in hopes of attempting rescue, where they reported flames shooting several hundred feet into the sky. Within hours over 20 miners had escaped to the surface but 78 remained trapped within. The fires continued to rage underground until the mine was sealed with concrete. Efforts to recover the bodies resumed a year later but over 19 bodies were never recovered. (Stewart, 120-140)
As early as 1909 officials expressed concern at the high amounts of flammable gasses released from within the mine. The mine had also been the site of several smaller incidents over the previous decade, including an explosion in 1954 which killed 15 miners. State and federal investigators at the time couldn’t determine any singular cause for the explosion. Instead investigators blamed a series of contributing factors such as: inadequate ventilation, poor testing procedures for methane gas, and a lack of control over both coal dust and the release of methane gas. (Stewart, 82-100)
There was pronounced public and political outrage over the explosion in Farmington. Then Secretary of the Interior Stuart Udall decried the incident in a speech and promised substantial change, bemoaning the “disgraceful health and safety record that has characterized this major industry” (Lockard, 71). The deaths at Farmington helped spur the passage of the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969, which mandated four mandatory inspections per year at all underground mines in the US, strict regulations on air quality within mines, and more supportive health policies for miners. While enforcement was lax at first due to understaffing, the necessary organizations were soon expanded.
Current Law Suit
New evidence discovered in regards to the accident in 2008 suggested that the chief electrician at the site knowingly disabled part of the ventilation system responsible for removing methane from the mine. This has caused new law suits to be drawn up by the families of the victims against the estate of deceased electrician Alex Kovarbasich and Murray Energy Group which now owns Consol. The law suit alleges that the mining company intentionally hid the role of Kovarbasich from investigators. The suit is ongoing. (http://blogs.wsj.com/law/2014/11/07/decades-after-deadly-w-va-mine-disaster-new-lawsuit-assigns-blam...)