Officials say methane gas is to blame for an early-morning coal mine explosion that killed 17 people in the Ukraine on Friday.
The incident occurred at around 2 a.m. local time, when over 250 people were working the night shift about 3,000 feet underground. Nine people are still missing.
The Ukrainian coal mining industry, which employs about 600,000 people, is notorious for poor maintenance and lack of sufficient safety regulations to protect workers. In 2007, a deadly blast at another nearby mine killed over 100 people. The NY Times reports that Ukraine’s mine elevators are made of wooden planks and that the ropes that haul miners down the shafts are often tattered.
The recent incident occurred close on the heels of a transportation elevator collapse last week, which killed two workers and injured eight others. According to the New York Times, Mykhailo Volynets, the head of the Independent Trade Union of Miners, has said 70 percent of the equipment in Ukrainian mines is outdated and needs to be replaced.
Critics of the coal mining industry point to incidents such as this as proof that this popular fossil fuel requires too high a price when environment, emissions and worker health are considered.
In 2008, a retention pond at a coal plant in Kingston, Tennessee spilled 5.4 million cubic yards of toxic sludge into the nearby Emory River, a tributary of the Tennessee River, which provides drinking water to millions of people in Tennessee, Alabama and Kentucky.
In April 2009, 25 people were killed in an explosion at a Virginia mine operated by Massey Energy, a company specializing in mountain top removal coal mining and infamous for racking up thousands of Clean Water Act and safety violations over the past decade. In 2010, a Massey sludge pond broke in West Virginia, dumping 30,000 gallons of toxic mining byproduct into a nearby river.
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