Tests Show More Problems With Air Packs Used in Coal Mines

West Virginia alerted its underground coal operations Thursday about potential problems with emergency air packs after decay was found inside packs carried by state mine inspectors.

The nine SR100 air packs randomly tested were not equipped with a heat damage indicator and may have been damaged while stored in hot vehicles, according to the state Office of Miners' Health Safety and Training.

The state wants mine operators to immediately remove any air packs from service that do not have heat indicators.

In a letter to coal operators and independent contractors, Terry Farley, administrator of enforcement, warns about the tested packs that were manufactured by Monroeville, Pa.-based CSE, before the company began installing the heat devices in 2004.

Farley said oxygen-starting cartridges in all nine air packs failed, which would delay the production of enough oxygen to sustain life by 15 to 20 minutes.

As of Aug. 21, 63 air packs lacking heat damage indicators were still being used by mine inspectors. The state chose 17 of those at random for testing on a breathing simulator at Pleasant Prairie, Wis.-based Ocenco Inc., which is the only manufacturer of automated breathing simulators. The state is paying $5,000 to use the facilities for 10 days.

Kentucky also is participating in the testing. The aim is to learn more about equipment that has come under heavy scrutiny after three deadly accidents in the two states this year.

A dozen miners were killed in a Jan. 2 explosion at the Sago Mine and two miners died in a belt line fire Jan. 19 at Aracoma Coal Co.'s Alma No. 1 mine in Logan County. Five miners were killed May 20 in an explosion at the Kentucky Darby Mine No. 1 in Harlan County, Ky., including three who died of carbon monoxide poisoning despite donning air packs.

Tests on air packs used in Kentucky coal mines, which were also sent to the Wisconsin site to be tested, had not been completed, said Mark York, a spokesman for the Kentucky Environmental and Public Protection Cabinet.