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Were lax standards to blame for coal death? page 2


 Crews continued to look for a missing miner and bulldozer that slid into the impoundment with two trucks and two engineers when an embankment collapsed Friday.
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Date published: 12/8/2012

continued

Pennsylvania-based Consol was working to raise the elevation of the impoundment when the accident happened, vice president for safety Lou Barletta said. Once the worker is found, the company will determine what happened "so we can learn from it and prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future," Barletta said.

The pond encompasses about 78 acres and is estimated to hold at least 1.6 billion gallons of wastewater, the equivalent of more than 2,500 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

Impoundments typically hold up over time. But they do fail, and in spectacular fashion.

In 1972, an earthen dam in Buffalo Creek in southern West Virginia collapsed after heavy rain, unleashing 130 million gallons of water, sludge and debris that killed 125 people, injured 1,100 and left 4,000 homeless.

Spadaro dedicated his life to preventing that sort of disaster from happening again and helped write the nearly 40-year-old regulations that are now on the books to guide slurry pond construction. The regulations give the government and coal companies detailed design, compaction strength and other criteria so the structures will withstand internal pressures and additional stress from big rain storms.

The regulations require the operator to do daily, quarterly and annual inspections, while the state must make monthly checks. MSHA relies partly on data provided by the companies to spot problems, which critics see as a weakness in the system.


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