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MSHA News Release No. 96-010
Mine Safety and Health Administration
Contact: Katharine Snyder
Phone: (703) 235-1452

June 21, 1996


The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) has begun a national review to check the integrity of mine waste structures that impound water, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health Davitt McAteer announced today. Spurred by above average rainfall in some key mining regions this year, the review is scheduled to be completed within three weeks.

"MSHA inspectors will make this special check at all mine waste impoundments in which a structural failure could place lives at risk," McAteer said. "In 1972, a coal mine waste dam failure claimed 125 lives. We know that some people in mining communities are concerned, and we need to make sure that MSHA and all concerned are doing all that is necessary to safeguard mining communities from impoundment failures."

Above-average rainfall and flooding have recently contributed to concern about mine waste impoundments, especially in the Eastern coalfields, McAteer said.

After the 1972 disaster on Buffalo Creek near Saunders, W.Va., Federal regulators set more stringent standards for the construction and maintenance of coal mine waste impoundments. Compliance with impoundment safety standards is checked during regular Federal mine inspections. MSHA's inspections in the next few weeks will accelerate these checks on those impoundments where communities could be at risk if a dam broke, McAteer said.

Mine waste consisting of broken rock and other mine byproducts typically is disposed of in massive waste piles. Some mine waste piles are constructed to serve as dams, impounding water. Mine waste impoundments typically serve as part of the mine's fine waste disposal system, as a source of water for mineral processing, or both.

Federal standards require that mine waste piles and impoundments be constructed according to appropriate engineering principles. Mine waste structures must also be regularly checked and maintained by the mine operator.

Nationwide, about 250 mine waste structures that impound water are in locations where people could be at risk if the impoundment failed.

Persons who have questions about the safety of a mine waste impoundment in their community are encouraged to contact their local MSHA office, or MSHA's toll-free safety complaint hot line at (800) 746-1554.