This photo from the West Virginia Division of Culture and History website shows wrecked cars piled up by the Buffalo Creek flood -- 132 million gallons of wastewater unleashed when a coal mine dam failed.

MSHA Eyes Changes in Dam Regulations

Its ANPRM asks for comments by Oct. 12 about how approximately 2,000 existing dams at metal and nonmetal mines are maintained, inspected, and insured. Current regulations do not include design requirements, unlike the regulations for coal mine dams, which were tightened after the 1972 Buffalo Creek disaster.

An Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking from the Mine Safety and Health Administration explains why the agency may strengthen its regulations for dams at metal and nonmetal mines. Those regulations are not as stringent as the regulations for coal mine dams, which were toughened in 1975 following the Feb. 26, 1972, Buffalo Creek disaster when a dam collapse killed 125 people.

MSHA published the ANPRM on Friday, requesting comments by Oct. 12 on 36 questions asking how approximately 2,000 existing dams at metal and nonmetal mines are maintained, inspected, and insured.

The current requirements for dams at metal and nonmetal mines are 30 CFR 56.20010 and 57.20010, which state: "If failure of a water or silt retaining dam will create a hazard, it shall be of substantial construction and inspected at regular intervals." The standards for coal mines were similar, except they directed mine operators to inspect their dams at least weekly and record the inspection findings. The 1975 revision put these requirements in place for coal mine dams that can present a hazard or are of a certain size:

  • Have a registered professional engineer certify the dam's design.
  • Develop plans for the design, construction, maintenance, and abandonment of the dam and have the plans approved by MSHA.
  • Have a qualified person inspect the dam weekly.
  • Have instrumentation monitored weekly.
  • Correct any hazardous condition and make required notifications.
  • Submit an annual report with a registered, professional engineer's certification that construction, operation, and maintenance of the dam have been in accordance with approved plans.

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