|Industrial Pollution in Japan (UNU, 1992, 187 pages)|
|Chapter - 5 The Miike coal-mine explosion|
The number of deaths and injuries resulting from the explosions was greatly increased by the carbon monoxide problem. In other words, had the carbon monoxide and other poison gases generated by the explosions been isolated in the immediate area, the amount of death and injury could have been kept to a minimum. However, the mining company did not make any efforts to provide for such eventualities. Moreover, it would seem that the company neglected to educate its workers in relation to the potential for gas poisoning. Indeed, it provided misinformation by spreading the "myth" that coal-dust explosions were impossible in the Miike mine.
If the company was unaware of the relationship between dust explosions and the generation of poison gases, then it can only be said that it was irresponsible in the extreme. In most cases the explosion victims were not injured in a physical manner, and many of the corpses recovered from the mine showed no scars or scratches at all, since they were victims of monoxide poisoning. Many of those rescued alive showed very severe symptoms of monoxide poisoning.
The Mitsui Coal Mining Company was aware of these facts but made no attempts to rescue the workers. It indicated that, because of the breakdown of electricity and telephone communications in the mine after the explosions, conditions inside were unclear, and therefore it was too risky to send in rescue crews. One must infer from these statements that management was willing for the 1,400 workers trapped inside the mine to be subjected to the possibility of pervasive monoxide poisoning, with no hope of rescue.
The miners of Miike were angered by the situation, feeling that responsible persons should go immediately into the mine with oxygen tanks. While management was safe from the problem, there were workers in the mine who were at 350- to 450-metre depths and 8 kilometres from the entrance in tunnels. These workers did not know about the explosions and were forced to remain below ground without electricity or telephones. Figure 5.1 is a sectional layout of the mine where the explosion took place. The encircled numbers above the line indicate those who died because of the explosions, and those below the line indicate those workers present when the explosions took place.
Note: Circled figures indicate the number of miners assigned (figure below the line) and the number of deaths (figure above the line) at each station.
The workers who knew about the explosion numbered approximately 200, who were located close to the bottom of a neighbouring mine shaft. About SO who were close to the site of the explosions died as a direct result of the conflagration or from the poison gas generated by the sudden combustion. Another 150 workers heard the explosion at a location where they were waiting for the lift out of the mine. They were told by officers not to move but to wait. These people lost their chance to Bet away from the destruction and died as a result of monoxide poisoning. Therefore, of the 200 people who knew about the explosion, none of them were able to go and tell the other workers of the seriousness of the problem. Figure S. 1 indicates that at a depth of 450 metres there were 120 workers, none of whom died. At 350 metres more workers died. It is said that at 450 metres there was air circulation from the Mitsui Company's Yotsuyama mine, whereas at the 350-metre level there were no provisions for isolating the poison gases and a ventilation fan worked to increase the rate at which the gas filled the area. The workers who were at this level knew nothing of the explosion and, believing that clean air was being brought into their area, died while on their way to the lift.
Instead of stopping the air-circulation fan, management continued its operation, thereby ensuring a more rapid spread of the poisons. The workers did not know about the gas problem and followed directions to use the passage that was normally used for ventilation; however, this was already filled with poisonous gas.
As a result of these management blunders, 438 persons lost their lives unnecessarily. There were 939 workers saved, but 839 of these suffered from serious carbon monoxide poisoning. Many more might have been saved if the company had taken immediate emergency action or had made preparations beforehand for such eventualities.