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The Underground Miners are very safety conscience. We have to be. Few people realize that exploring an abandoned mine is a lot more complicated than grabbing a flashlight and heading into a hole. The Underground Miners are well trained and very experienced in mine safety and extremely knowledgeable in mining practices and dangers. We encourage no person to enter an abandoned mine for any reason.

1)Unsafe Top

Very common in abandoned mines, unsafe top is not always obvious to the eye. Because timbers and props are no longer supportive in abandoned mines, the threat of rock or coal falls is always imminent. Even top rock that looks solid may be separated from the solid rock strata above it, and therefore be hanging with hollow space between the visible rock and solid strata. Anthracite left hanging on the top rock poses an even greater threat. Anthracite does not adhere to the rock above it and is extremely prone to fall by delamination without notice. Most anthracite noted on the ceiling of any mine will have signs of delamination and future collapse. This is extremely dangerous.

2) Unsafe pillars in flat pitch mines

In large anthracite veins, the coal pillars holding up the ceiling can also pose a threat. Due to the increased weight on smaller areas (the pillars) due to second mining, the pillars can and will crack and deteriorate. Years of airflow on the pillars also breaks them down and causes loss of strength. Thats right, all it takes is air to decompose the face of coal. When it falls, or is squeezed off from the ever growing weight on the pillar a new face is given and it too will then fall someday. Sides of pillars can become loose and completely fall over, crushing anything beneath them.

3) Pitch mining dangers

Pitch mining is mining performed where the coal veins are pitched at a steep angle. This is dominant in the Middle and Southern anthracite fields. Pitch mines are one of the most dangerous of abandoned mines. Because of the nature of the veins, coal was mined using gravity – sending coal down chutes to pile up behind doors waiting to be released into coal cars on the main gangway. Many times these chutes fill up with debris after the mines abandonment, or simply were never emptied of their coal. With only the rotting wood holding back tons and tons of material, the debris could break through and bury anything below it, or completely fill a gangway, trapping anything or anyone past the chute. The floors of pitch mines also pose great dangers. Chutes would sometimes continue at extremely steep angles, following the vein of coal, until they broke through at the next gangway, or “level,” of the mine. This leaves a hole in the floor of the higher level. Such holes were often, but not always, covered with wood to ensure no miner would fall. Today, this wood is rotten and is indistinguishable from the dirty rock floor next to it. Stepping onto rotten wood above a coal chute is extremely dangerous. Falling into such a coal chute will result in death. It is impossible to climb up the bottom rock of a coal chute without rope on a pitch of more than 30 degrees. Mine water is no greater than 50 Degrees, and hypothermia will set in well before help can be reached if the chute extends into the mine pool, which mostly they do. The dangers of pitch mines are not limited to underground. Chutes sometimes extended to the surface of the mountain which was being mined, leaving holes which can be obscured in the ground, these are called cropfalls. Extreme care should be taken walking or riding along mountaintops in the middle and southern anthracite fields.

4) Bad air - Mine gases

This is an often overlooked, yet extremely dangerous aspect of abandoned coal mines. Bad air is extremely prevalent and cannot be detected by human senses. Black damp is a mixture of Carbon Dioxide and Nitrogen. Simply put, it is a lack of oxygen in the air. Coal absorbs oxygen and gives off carbon dioxide and water vapor. As the oxygen is absorbed out of the air and carbon dioxide is given off, it mixes with the nitrogen already in the air and forms Black Damp. Black damp is heavier than normal atmospheric air and builds up in unventilated sections of the mine. It is the strongest on the mine floor, though it can fill a whole tunnel. If the airflow changes in a mine for weather or barometric reasons this gas can and will flow out of these parts of the mine and possibly into the area you are or were, making escape impossible. Black damp rapidly overcomes the body, disabling regular functions requiring oxygen. With only a 6% drop in oxygen, Dizziness, rapid pulse, headache, blurred vision and loss of muscle movement occur. With enough exposure to black damp you loose the ability to walk back out of the mine. One would slowly suffocate if stuck in black damp for a period of time. In almost every abandoned anthracite mine black damp is present during some part of the year! Methane is also a hazard in coal mines. Methane is trapped within the coal veins from the decomposition of the organic matter which created the veins. When coal is removed, methane is released. Methane is highly explosive. Open flames, sparks, and even light sources not approved by MSHA can trigger deadly methane explosions. Methane is lighter that normal atmospheric air, and exists strongest near the top rock. Without proper detection equipment, and proper training in the use of such equipment these mine gases can prove deadly. The threat of bad air in a mine is one of the worst threats of all, and should not be taken lightly. This we can not stress enough. We too once said "This will never happen to us." The UGM team use, and have been trained in sophisticated digital gas detection equipment such as the Industrial Scientific M40M 3 or 4 Gas detector, as well as tried and true flame safety lamps. Not only is it important to be able to detect these gases but, you must be able to escape from them too. There is the chance, if you are not familiar with natural ventilation and what effects it, you can be trapped in a pocket of black damp without any way out. Members of the UGM team now carry the CSE SR-100.. It is a 1 hour oxygen generating self rescuer. The UGM team is equipped with all of the same, if not better gear as if we were going to work mining coal.

Here is a video from when we encountered Black Damp:

Detecting Black Damp using a Flame Safety Lamp.

Detecting Black Damp Outside the opening of a mine using Our M40M Digital Gas Monitor.

Every member of the UGM team is very experienced in all aspects of mine dangers, and highly trained in mining safety. Every member of the UGM team uses only MSHA approved gear and our gas detection devices are calibrated as per the MSHA and PA mine laws. However, equipment is only as good as the man behind it. Proper use and calibration of gas detection equipment is crucial. Although necessary, equipment isn’t everything. Knowledge, training, and common sense must not be overlooked.

With that said, please read our disclaimer and enjoy the site.

© 2005 Underground Miners