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Reducing the Danger of Explosions in Sealed Areas (Gobs) in Mines; CDC NIOSH Technology News
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    Objective To identify techniques to reduce the probability of gob gas explosions. Background In the last 6 years, seven explosions of methane and/or coal dust occurred within worked-out, sealed areas (gobs) of underground U.S. coal mines. These explosions, believed to have been started by lightning, destroyed many mine seals and caused much damage external to the sealed area. Three of these gob gas explosions occurred in one mine in Alabama over a 3-year period. Fortunately, the explosion forces and the toxic gases that vented from the sealed gob area did not cause fatalities or injuries, but they destroyed several large seals. If miners had been inspecting or working near these areas, the potential for serious injury and/or death would have been high. The United Mine Workers of America and the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) requested that the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) help identify the mechanisms for lightning penetration into the gob and recommend ways to reduce the probability of occurrence of future explosions from such lightning penetrations into sealed areas of underground coal mines. Because three of the explosions occurred in a single mine, special attention was focused on these particular explosions. The first occurred in April 1994 in a sealed area, which enclosed about 1.35square miles of abandoned workings (gob). This explosion destroyed 3 of the 38 seals that surrounded the gob. These seals were less than 2,000 ft away from three 4.5-in-diam steel-cased test wells that extended from the surface into the mine entry. At the time of the explosion, the National Lightning Detection Network (NLDN)verified 12 lightning strikes within 10 miles of the mine, including several above the gob. After the 1994 explosion, the damaged seals were rebuilt using an acceptable seal design capable of with standing a 20-psi explosion, as required by 30 CFR 75.335. On January 26,1996, a second gob explosion destroyed five more cementitious pumpable seals less than 2,000 ft away from those destroyed in 1994and even closer to the steel-cased wells. The NLDN verified72 lightning strikes in the area of this second gob explosion. Compressive strength analyses of fragments from the destroyed seals showed that strengths ranged from 11 to 138 psi, with an average of83 psi. This is over 100 psi below the minimum 200-psi compressive strength requirement for cementitious pumpable seals. These seals were again replaced. On July 9, 1997, the third and most violent explosion occurred in the same vicinity of the last two explosions. Three more cementitious pumpable seals were destroyed, including one newer seal that exceeded the minimum 200-psi compressive strength requirement. The NLDN verified 695 lightning strikes above the mine during the time in which the explosion occurred. MSHA's

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