Saturday, May 20, 2006

Kimberly Mine Tragedy

Four people were killed at the Sullivan mine in Kimberly this week. The linked story gives as many details as are known about the incident, but I asked my Dad about his time working there:
I worked in the Sullivan mine in the summer of 1954 as a mine surveyors helper. We would go into the mine in the morning and survey all the new advances in the tunneling from the day before (they would blast at the end of the shift). We would go out of the mine about lunch time and rush through the change room and showers before the miners came out as the safety people would dump cans of very fine aluminum dust into the hopper on whistle like devices connected to compressed air. When they opened the valve the black aluminum dust would fill the air and get on your skin and clothes. The aluminum dust was meant to get into the miners lungs and form aluminum hydroxide, a phlegm-like substance that would float the silicon particles out of the lungs as they coughed. After we got back in the office we would plot up all the advances on several different scales of map for all the levels and perspectives of raises coming up out of the various levels

There was an area of the mine where the lead and zinc sulfide ore was oxidizing and releasing SO2 if the air got at it. This area was sealed off and called the "hot box"; when you were in tunnels adjoining this area it was uncomfortably hot as the heat came through the rock, the rest of the mine was a comfortable 60 to 65F or so. I think it was SO2 that got the people, I don't know what they were doing, probably something to do with decommissioning in an enviro-friendly manner.

His speculation on the SO2 was probably premature - from the first article we saw on this it wasn't clear where the victims were. It now appears they were above ground in a water monitoring shed - who knows what could have contributed to an oxygen poor condition in there. Perhaps some dissolved substance in the water oxidized in the shed. At this point, thought, anything my Dad or I could say about this would be pure speculation. I'll be interested to follow this story to see if they determine a cause.

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