Joseph A. Main is assistant U.S. secretary of labor for mine safety and health.

Underground Investigation of Upper Big Branch Mine Begins

MSHA said a month of exploration by mine rescue teams to confirm the mine is safe for investigators is completed. This new phase involves teams with expertise in mapping, dust surveys, electrical, photography, flames and forces, geology, and evidence gathering.

Saying a "critical component of this investigation has now begun," Joe Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health, announced that the underground investigation of the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia will commence this week. "Along with the already extensive witness interviews that have been conducted, the physical examination of the mine hopefully will provide answers to the cause of a tragic explosion that has affected so many lives," he added.

An April 5 explosion inside the mine killed 29 miners. Mine rescue teams for the past month have explored the coal mine to confirm it's safe for investigators; the underground investigation involves teams with expertise in mapping, dust surveys, electrical, photography, flames and forces, geology, and evidence gathering. MSHA and the West Virginia Office of Miners' Health Safety & Training are participating and have set rules for preservation of evidence to be followed by the teams, according to MSHA. Team members will stick together while in the mine and may take notes. Each team will create one map for each area of the mine, and the maps will be distributed to each party at the end of each shift.

Massey Energy's website providing updates on the investigation is here. The company maintains MSHA controlled the ventilation plan Massey was allowed to use inside the mine, and Massey sued the agency in a Washington, D.C., federal court on June 23 to challenge MSHA's authority to dictate the design of ventilation systems and limit use of scrubbers in underground mines.

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