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Published on Feb 1, 2011
The Sunshine Mine near Kellogg, ID, was the nation's premier silver producer for many years. In 1972, the mine was nearly 6,000 feet deep, contained hundreds of miles of worked-out areas, and employed nearly 500 people. Because of its depth and the type of host rock for the silver (unburnable quartzite), the general thinking of the day was that fires in mines such as the Sunshine were impossible, because "hard-rock mines don't burn." What wasn't really considered was that timber supports, foam insulation, and mining equipment do burn and that the carbon monoxide gas produced by burning is far more deadly than fire itself. Thus, no one was prepared when, on May 2, 1972, a fire of unknown origin broke out below the 3100 level of the mine. Before long, 173 miners on the day shift were trapped by thick, black smoke. By the time the fire was out, 91 miners had died, and the Sunshine Mine Fire became known as one of the worst mine disasters of the 20th century. After the Sunshine Mine disaster, Congress passed the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 (Mine Act), the legislation which currently governs MSHA's activities. The Mine Act amended the 1969 Coal Act in a number of significant ways, and consolidated all federal health and safety regulations of the mining industry, coal as well as non-coal mining, under a single statutory scheme. The Mine Act strengthened and expanded the rights of miners, and enhanced the protection of miners from retaliation for exercising such rights. Mining fatalities dropped sharply under the Mine Act from 272 in 1977 to 86 in 2000. The Mine Act also transferred responsibility for carrying out its mandates from the Department of the Interior to the Department of Labor, and named the new agency the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). Additionally, the Mine Act established the independent Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission to provide for independent review of the majority of MSHA's enforcement actions. In 2006, Congress passed the Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act (MINER Act). The MINER Act amended the Mine Act to require mine-specific emergency response plans in underground coal mines; added new regulations regarding mine rescue teams and sealing of abandoned areas; required prompt notification of mine accidents; and enhanced civil penalties. For more on the history of mine safety, go to http://www.msha.gov/AboutMSHA.HTM . This was clipped from the 2004 video, We Are ... MSHA, by the Mine Safety and Health Administration and available at the MSHA website and the Internet Archive.