Studying the causes of mining disasters in the past will help modern mines avoid repeating them in the future.
History tells us that majority of mining disasters were due to insufficient monitoring for safety, ineffective or non-existent emergency response systems, and flawed engineering design of facilities like dams. Preventing similar accidents from occurring is possible with the current knowledge on relevant fields like safety, health, the environment, engineering, and disaster risk management. Knowledge on these fields must be applied to design safe mine facilities, utilize state of the art monitoring systems, and develop effective emergency systems.
These are the five worst mining disasters that modern mines must never repeat.
1. The Benxihu colliery mining disaster
The Benxihu colliery mining disaster of 1942 in Liaoning province, China is considered as the worst coal mining disaster in history – resulting in the death of 1,549 Chinese miners. The Japanese acquired the mine after successfully invading the Liaoning province during the Sino-Japanese war. Chinese laborers who were forced to work in the mine faced terrible mining conditions. Their clothes were in tatters, shoes were worn out, diseases were rampant, and they were barely fed.
On April 26, 1942, a fire erupted in the underground mine tunnels. The miners’ relatives who came to the site were shooed away by the guards, who then erected an electric fence to keep unauthorized personnel from coming in. It took 10 days to clean the site and recover the bodies, most of which were burned beyond recognition
2. Courrières mine disaster
The Courrières mine disaster of March 10, 1906 that resulted in the death of around 1060 miners, is considered to be Europe’s worst mining disaster.
At around 3 pm of March 9, 1906, a fire began to form 270 m underground in an area called the Cecil Pit. Unable to extinguish the fire, the miners closed off the area hoping to starve the fire of oxygen. However, fissures in the tunnel walls allowed flammable gases to seep through and accumulate in the burning Cecil Pit.
At 7 am of March 10, a huge explosion erupted in the Cecil Pit, pushing out air and debris through the mine openings into the surface. Several people on the surface were instantly killed. The air pressure generated by the explosion was so great that the roof of an office building on the surface was completely blown off. After the explosion, fire spread to the network of underground tunnels, where around 1,800 miners were working.
It took several weeks to recover all the bodies. A total of 1060 miners were killed in the explosion and subsequent fire, while hundreds of survivors suffered serious injuries.
3. The Senghenydd pit disaster
At around 8:00 am of October 14, 1913, an explosion occurred in the underground tunnels of Senghenydd Coal Mine in South Wales. The explosion and subsequent release of poisonous gases killed 439 miners, making it the most lethal and tragic mine disaster in British history.
The explosion was caused by an electric spark in an area with high concentrations of methane gas. The problem was worsened by the coal dust in the air that resulted in more explosions. As a result of the explosions, carbon monoxide and other toxic gases permeated through the underground tunnels, suffocating those who were not able to reach the surface quickly enough.
The rescue teams took three weeks to recover all the bodies. Around 1000 workers were killed in the disaster.
4. Val di Stava dam collapse
A dam containing mud and water collapsed near Trento Italy on July 19, 1985. The rushing mud from the collapsed dam killed 268 people, destroyed 3 hotels, 53 homes, 6 industrial buildings, and 8 bridges, and damaged 9 buildings.
For over 20 years of operations, the dam underwent no serious stability check and monitoring by public departments that were responsible to ensure safety of the mines and surrounding communities. An inspection in 1975 – ten years before the collapse – showed that the the dam was so unstable and unsafe, having multiple design flaws, that it seemed like a miracle that it was still standing.
5. 2000 Baia Mare cyanide spill
On January 30, 2000, thousands of cubic meters of liquid containing lethal concentrations of cyanide, copper, and other heavy metals spilled out of a dam being operated by Aurul SA Company in Romania. The break was caused by design flaws in the mine and unexpected weather conditions. The spill interrupted the water supply of 24 municipalities. Hungary estimated that 1240 tonnes of fish died due to the contamination of the Tisza river.
- Honkeiko colliery mining disaster | China . Encyclopedia Britannica. 2016. Available at: http://www.britannica.com/event/Honkeiko-colliery-mining-disaster. Accessed March 11, 2016.
- Mine explosion kills 1 0. Mine explosion kills 1,060 in France – Mar 10, 1906 – HISTORY.com. HISTORYcom. 2016. Available at: http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/mine-explosion-kills-1060-in-france. Accessed March 11, 2016.
- BBC – Wales History: The Senghenydd pit disaster. Bbccouk. 2016. Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/waleshistory/2011/10/the_senghenydd_pit_disaster.html. Accessed March 11, 2016.
- Tailings.info ▪ Stava tailings dam failure. Tailingsinfo. 2016. Available at: http://www.tailings.info/casestudies/stava.htm. Accessed March 11, 2016.
- Archiverecorg. 2016. Available at: http://archive.rec.org/REC/Publications/CyanideSpill/ENGCyanide. Accessed March 11, 2016.
Source of the photo for the 2000 Baia Mare cyanide spill
- delmagyarhu. 2016. Available at: http://www.delmagyar.hu/szeged_hirek/azonnal_olt_a_cian_a_tiszaban/2415983/. Accessed March 11, 2016.