At least 25 dead at mine with history of safety violations

Twenty-five miners lost their lives this week in the single deadliest mine disaster in decades.

The Monday explosion at the Massey Energy-owned Upper Big Branch Mine-South in Whitesville, WV, killed at least 25 workers and hospitalized two, according to the Richmond, VA-based coal producer. At press time, rescue efforts were underway to locate four missing workers.

Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis pledged the workers' deaths would "not be in vain," and the Mine Safety and Health Administration would investigate and "take action."

Both Massey and the mine's operator, Performance Coal Co., have a history of safety violations. Last year alone, Performance Coal received 515 citations and proposed penalties totaling nearly $900,000 for violations at Upper Big Branch.

Among the violations were requirements for an operator to develop and follow a ventilation plan to control methane and respirable dust. The company currently is contesting a majority of the citations.

The mine disaster occurred days after the Department of Labor's Office of Inspector General released an audit (.pdf file) that found more than half of journeyman mine inspectors failed to complete required retraining, with no consequences for that failure.

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