Montcoal Mine Explosion: A Reminder of the Continuing Dangers for Miners

With 25 miners dead and four more missing, Monday's Montcoal, W. Va., explosion is a reminder that coal mining is still one of the world's most dangerous professions.

Officials don't yet know what triggered the blast at the Upper Big Branch mine, which occurred around 3 p.m. Around 2:30 a.m., they called off a search for the four missing miners because of high levels of poisonous methane gas in the mine. In the best-case scenario, the four would have reached a special airtight chamber equipped with food and water where they could wait for rescue workers, but a federal official told reporters on the scene that he didn't think they had time to make it to the chamber.

With a death toll of 25, the Montcoal explosion is the worst mining accident since 1984 Utah disaster killed 27. But if the four missing miners did not survive, it will be the worst since 1970, according to The Washington Post. It comes just days after an explosion in China killed five miners, but saw the rescue of 115 others.

After 13 West Virginia miners died in the 2006 Sago Mine Disaster, legislators instituted stricter rules for protecting miners and sealing off areas with breathable air, like the rescue chamber at Upper Big Branch. Massey Energy Co., owner of the Upper Big Branch mine, has been repeatedly cited for violations of safety laws at the mine, the Charleston Daily Mail reported. Among the citations from the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration: failing to control dust, improper planning for ventilation of dust and combustible methane, and allowing the accumulation of combustible materials. The Associated Press reportedthat fines came to $382,000 for the last year. Mine watchdogs sayMonday's explosion offers a grim reminder that the laws aren't strong enough.

For more, The Charleston Gazette has a roundup of leaders' statementsand breaking developments.