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MSHA News Release No. 98-0617
Mine Safety and Health Administration
Contact: Amy Louviere
Phone: (703) 235-1452


Last month, the body of a 23-year-old Guerneville, Calif. woman was found at the base of an abandoned mercury mine. She apparently was walking alone in the rugged area and lost her footing at the top of a 200-foot ravine.

In Jonestown, Pa., a 20-year-old man broke his arm and suffered facial cuts as he fell 60 feet down an abandoned coal mine shaft while hiking with several friends.

An 18-year-old boy from Goochland, Va., -- who hours before had been recognized during an awards assembly at school -- drowned that afternoon during a celebratory swim with friends at a private quarry.

As warm weather settles upon the nation, the urge to explore forbidden areas becomes even more irresistible. According to the U.S. Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration, dozens of people are injured and killed each year from accidents that occur at inactive underground mines, sinkholes, pits and quarries.

"There is a multitude of reasons to steer clear of these places," said J. Davitt McAteer, assistant labor secretary for mine safety and health. "Abandoned mines often have unsupported roofs that can collapse without warning, and harmful gases such as methane and hydrogen sulfide can overcome people very quickly."

Sand and gravel operations that shut down pits and quarries often leave behind old, unusable equipment. "People who swim in these prohibited areas run the risk of getting tangled in barbed wire or a chain-link fence, or may cut themselves on sharp glass," added McAteer.

Quarries can be deceptively deep, and the unexpectedly cold temperature of the water can lead to cramping, incapacitating even the most experienced swimmer.

In spite of mine companies' efforts to seal off mine-shaft openings or backfill the shaft with concrete, these measures aren't always foolproof. "The ‘No Trespassing' signs are posted for a reason," said McAteer. "If we can make people aware of the potential dangers, hopefully they will seek their thrills elsewhere."