Franklin Co. mine could face $1.2 million in penalties for not evacuating miners from fire

by Aaron Price (Photo: Foresight Energy)
by Aaron Price (Photo: Foresight Energy)

BREAKING | 6/17/2022 | 5:30 p.m.

WASHINGTON D.C. – The U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration is seeking to penalize a local mine following an underground fire that burned for several months.

M-Class Mining LLC, is facing nearly $1.2 million in civil penalties that have been proposed from the Department of Labor after they did not evacuate miners from an underground fire and failed to notify MSHA.

The fire, which first broke out on August 13, 2021, also led to concerns regarding toxic PFAS firefighting chemicals being released into the environment.

Since then, Illinois Governor JB Pritzker has signed a bill banning the so-called "forever chemicals."

Late on the morning of Aug. 14, 2021, after learning of the unextinguished fire through an anonymous complaint, MSHA issued an order to withdraw all miners from the mine and began an accident investigation.

The investigation found that the operator allowed continued coal production and did not take immediate actions to protect the safety and health of miners.

Specifically, MSHA inspectors determined M-Class Mining LLC failed to follow the approved Mine Emergency Evacuation and Firefighting Program and evacuate the miners; did not notify MSHA within 15 minutes of the fire’s start as the law requires; and failed to fully comply with federal orders to withdraw miners from the mine.

“M-Class Mining LLC deliberately jeopardized the lives of the very miners it was responsible for protecting, and violated numerous important safety and health standards in the process,” said Assistant Secretary for Mine Safety and Health Chris Williamson. “The fact that this operator continued business as usual while miners underground had no idea there was an ongoing fire hazard more than justifies the civil penalties that we propose.”

MSHA issued 14 citations to the M-Class mine, including 10 related to the operator’s reckless disregard for the miners’ safety and health.

Two of the 10 proposed citations are flagrant: for the operator not evacuating the mine when the fire was located, and for allowing miners to work underground without being tracked by the mine tracking system. A flagrant violation may be assessed the highest penalty allowed by law.

MSHA has assessed $1,165,396 in proposed penalties for the violations.

M-Class Mining LLC has 30 days to pay or contest the violation or penalties to the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission.

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