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MSHA News Release No. 96-014
Mine Safety and Health Administration
Contact: Amy Louviere
Phone: (703) 235-1452

August 8, 1996


Last January, an 18-year-old man exploring an abandoned silver mine in Tooele County, Utah, plunged hundreds of feet down the mine's shaft. The man died almost instantly from massive leg and head trauma when he hit the bottom.

That same day, a Grand Junction, Colorado, hiker died inside a long- abandoned coal mine after he apparently was overcome by toxic gas.

And last June, a 39-year-old man drowned while swimming in an abandoned quarry in Mecklenburg, Virginia. He and two children had trespassed by climbing a fence surrounding the quarry.

Each year, unsuspecting explorers, recreationalists and pets wander into inactive mines, sinkholes, pits and quarries. According to the Labor Department's Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), dozens of people and animals are killed or injured each year on abandoned mine sites.

"These tragic deaths underscore the danger of entering abandoned mines and quarries," said J. Davitt McAteer, assistant labor secretary for mine safety and health. Companies that shut down pits and quarries often leave behind old equipment. "An unsuspecting swimmer may find himself tangled up in barbed wire or a chain-link fence," he said.

Abandoned underground mines harbor other kinds of dangers. "Noxious gases such as methane and hydrogen sulfide can overcome people quickly, and unsupported roofs can collapse without warning," said McAteer.

Some mine-shaft openings are sealed by creating a cement wall or backfilling the shaft with concrete. Mine companies often place warning signs or weld gates to the opening. These measures aren't foolproof, however. "There's still a major problem with vandalism," said McAteer.

According to MSHA, the growing urbanization of rural areas, population growth, greater residential development and easier access to formerly remote areas have increased exposure to abandoned mine sites. This has significantly raised the potential for more incidents and disasters.

The Department of Interior's Office of Surface Mining (OSM) also has taken steps to educate people about the prevailing dangers. OSM has produced several television public service announcements (PSAs) warning people to steer clear of abandoned mines. For further information on these PSAs, contact the OSM Office of Communications at (202) 208-2719.