Talking Points for NIOSH's Lake Lynn Research Site
NIOSH is in danger of losing its Lake Lynn Experimental Mine, a facility that crosses the Pennsylvania-West Virginia border in Fayette County, PA. Lake Lynn has been a government mining research facility for the past 30 years. However, a rock fall in October 2008 resulted in closure of the underground testing facility, and a decision was made not to repair damage caused by the rock fall because Lake Lynn is leased, not owned by the government. NIOSH’s parent, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), have been in talks with the landowner to purchase the facility. The talks have stalled, and CDC is now planning to hand the facility back to the owner when the current agreement expires on Sept. 30, 2012. Lake Lynn consists of an underground experimental coal mine and aboveground testing facilities.
- The government has invested millions of dollars to create a one-of-a-kind large-scale simulated coal mine to perform critical mine safety and health research. If the facility is lost, this investment will go away, too.
- The facility is needed now more than ever because fatalities from underground coal mine explosions are actually increasing, necessitating more dust and explosion-prevention research. This research can only be done realistically at Lake Lynn.
- In this century alone, research at Lake Lynn has led to three important improvements in mine safety.
? determination of the minimal amount of material needed to render coal dust incombustible. When coal dust contains 80% or more incombustible content, it helps prevent a gas explosion from spreading. This research informed a regulation subsequently issued by the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA).
? development of the coal dust explosibility meter (CDEM), which measures the incombustible content in coal dust on the spot. Before the CDEM became commercially available, dust samples had to be sent to an off-site laboratory, which took weeks to return results. Safety is improved because corrective action can now be taken immediately and not be critically delayed.
? after seals separating active from abandoned mine works failed in an explosion that killed 12 miners in 2006, NIOSH used Lake Lynn to test new seal strengths. This research informed a seals regulation MSHA issued about two years later.
- Sparks created by mine machinery cutting into stone in the presence of explosive methane gas can produce frictional ignitions, which can then transition into massive explosions. Frictional ignitions are a fact of life when cutting coal. However, research at Lake Lynn is believed to have saved more than 1,000 miners in the 1990s alone due to rock dusting, float dust control and frictional ignition prevention strategies developed there.
- Explosive gas and dust explosions research cannot be done anywhere else in the U.S. or abroad except at Lake Lynn.
- The Upper Big Branch Mine explosion, which claimed 29 miners in 2010, has pointed to the critical need for more explosion research. This includes determining the effectiveness of foamed rock dust as a suppression agent, developing anti-caking substances to produce more effective rock dust, studying rock dust size to determine the optimal particle distribution, and evaluating passive barriers to prevent explosion propagation in areas of the mine unsuited to rock dusting.
- Lake Lynn is a major mine rescue team training center because it offers realistic training under conditions as close as possible to the real thing.
- The continued use of Lake Lynn is critical to MSHA’s mission to protect miners’ lives. The agency has developed a briefing paper that lists 10 current critical research needs, many of which can only be done at Lake Lynn.
The government has assessed the value of the property, and, accordingly, Congress has appropriated funds to purchase it. The landowner says the asking price is insufficient. Therefore, either more funds need to be appropriated, or the government should consider taking the property under the eminent domain doctrine and letting the courts decide appropriate compensation. Action must be taken soon, since the current agreement expires on Sept. 30.
- Convince key lawmakers of the need for the site.
- Urge oversight congressional committees to direct CDC’s parent, the Department of Health and Human Services, to act now to preserve Lake Lynn as a government research facility.
Courtesy of Sharpe's Point: On Mine Safety.