, , , ,

Monongah mine

Monongah mine on Dec. 6, 1907 (from the Mine Safety and Health Administration website)

Whenever politicians say they want to do away with regulations, we should turn to history and remind ourselves why they exist. I wish the 1907 explosion at Monongah, a coal mine in West Virginia, were seared in everyone’s imagination.

According to Davitt McAteer, author of Monongah: The Tragic Story of the 1907 Monongah Mine Disaster, The Worst Industrial Accident in U.S. History, about 500 men and boys lost their lives Dec. 6, 1907. They left behind hundreds of widows and more than 1,000 orphans.

Photos on the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration website show the suffering and chaos behind those appalling numbers.

Perhaps the silver lining is that Congress created the Bureau of Mines, and the tragedy eventually led to the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969, which McAteer helped to enact.

But laws are only as good as the degree to which they are enforced. NPR recently aired a story about the aftermath of another mine disaster in West Virginia, this one just last year at Masse Energy’s Upper Big Branch. The failure to enforce regulations had devastating consequences.

If Monongah were remembered, perhaps safety would truly trump profits, perhaps those 29 miners would still be alive.