In January 2006 a methane explosion trapped 12 miners at the International Coal Group's Sago mine in West Virginia. All but one died of carbon monoxide asphyxiation. It was the nation's worst mining accident in recent years.
This week May 14th-18th on Capitol Hill, the West Virginia mine equipment company A.L. Lee Corporation, unveiled new technology that it claims could have saved the Sago miners' lives.
"Now that we have 20 to 30 people in it..."
Company officials call it an underground rescue chamber. Congressman George Miller, a Democrat from California, is chairman of the Education and Labor Committee that oversees mine safety.
"It is a very exciting moment in the history of mine safety to now know that this will become the standard of care, the duty of care that the government and mining companies owe to those individuals that go down into the mines everyday."
"In an emergency situation you would merely open this door"
Most mine deaths occur due to lack of oxygen and the presence of carbon monoxide and other toxic gases. A.L. Lee Corporation officials say this emergency shelter contains enough oxygen, food, water and light sources for 35 miners to survive for up to 96 hours while they await rescue.
The company is planning to build the chambers large enough to hold 50 miners. The shelter is housed in a steel containment vessel. Inside are water, food and oxygen. The shelter inflates in about three minutes, and breathable air is immediately discharged into the shelter. The covering is made of five protective layers. The center layer is aluminum. The A.L. Lee Corporation says that guarantees that carbon monoxide can not enter the chamber.
"And I would like now to recognize Congressman Nick Rahall who is the chair of the National resources committee"
Rahall represents the state of West Virginia. It is one of the largest coal producers in the U.S. It will be the first state to require that all mining companies equip their mines with rescue chambers like this within the next year.
"Protecting our nation's coal miners and improving their working conditions is a constant and ongoing process. And we can never say it is complete."
An A.L. Lee Corporation representative says the company plans to sell its chamber for 70,000 to 90,000 dollars each and the International Coal Group that owns the Sago mine is buying three million dollars worth. The coal company plans to begin deploying them in its mines this August.