Not the Miners, Not Again!

Yes, again. Lest you think I mourn only those lives lost in the U.S. coal mines (See "Is a Miner's Life Worth the Price of Some Sensors?" and "Think They're Reading My Blog?"), let me say it is not so. I draw your attention today to the 65 coal miners by now presumed dead in the San Juan de Sabinas mine in northern Mexico. Twelve others at the mine entrance were burned or had their bones broken by the explosion that has trapped the 65 somewhere underground. The particulars are horribly familiar.

No one is quite sure where the miners are. They have been wherever they are, perhaps 1-3 miles from the entrance, since about 2:30 a.m. on Sunday, February 19. Their emergency oxygen tanks can last 6 hours. Their rescuers are digging by hand because power equipment could set off another explosion. And, just to top it all, a local electrical outage temporarily shut down a ventilation system intended to send fresh air down and exhaust the volatile gases. At least those waiting above weren't given false hope as they were at the Sago Mine disaster. As far as I've been able to learn, no one's telling anyone anything.

Then Who's Saying What?
Statements, however, have been issued. Consuelo Aguilar, a spokeswoman for the Mexican National Miners' Union, was quoted as saying that "labor leaders have been concerned about safety conditions in Grupo Mexico mines." But Juan Rebolledo, Grupo Mexico's vice president of international affairs, asserted that both national and international safety standards were met, while adding that "accidents can always happen." And Pedro Camarillo, a federal labor official, observed that nothing out of the ordinary was discovered during a routine evaluation earlier this month.

And How Do We Figure In?
As it happens, Grupo Mexico SA de CV mines not only coal but is also the world's third-largest copper producer. It has operations in Mexico, Peru, and the U.S.

Now we get to where the rubber meets the road. My guess is that some of that coal—and/or that copper—is sold in this country. This country is the operating base for many humanitarian souls working to improve the working conditions of migrant workers and to eliminate the products of sweatshops both domestic and overseas from our clothing stores. It is also the country that for a couple of years banned tweezers from carry-on luggage and is currently busy with a more stringent definition of "whole grain" as advertised in food products.

Why, then, are the miners still fending pretty much for themselves, both here and in Mexico? The Canadians appear to have discovered the wonders that sensors and other advanced technology can accomplish to enhance the safety of its miners, several of whom recently survived accidents that would have taken many lives south of that northern border. (Yes, the situation is far worse in China, but right now I'm talking about the Western world.)

One perhaps telling note is that Grupo Mexico shares rose 1.2% at 1:30 p.m. EST yesterday, February 21, 2006.

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