State inspectors have closed a preparation plant and part of a strip mine after finding explosives residue associated with the disposal of old munitions from defense contractor Talon Manufacturing.
Magnum Coal’s Samples Mine cannot reopen those parts of its operation until company officials submit and receive approval of a cleanup plan.
The mine’s preparation plan and an active pit had already closed voluntarily on Tuesday to deal with the issue, said Caryn Gresham, spokeswoman for the state Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training.
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When inspectors returned on Wednesday and found the explosives residue, they issued an imminent danger closure order, Gresham said.
”They found reasonable concerns for safety and as a precautionary measure had those two areas only closed,” Gresham said.
Magnum has been using explosives from Talon Manufacturing as part of a U.S. Army plan to dispose of the explosive compound Tetryl from Talon’s operations in Wyoming County.
The plan came to light only after an employee of the mine’s blasting contractor, Nelson Brothers, was injured in a detonation accident on Feb. 10.
Army officials approved a deal with Minden, La.-based Explo Systems Inc. for the disposal project in mid-November. The contract indicates that three different strip mines are involved, but Army officials blanked out the names of the mines from a copy of the contract they made public.
In August, a series of 10 explosions rocked an Explo Systems operation in Minden that recycles bombs, leading to widespread evacuations and two injuries.
Last week, state mine safety officials said they had no jurisdiction over the strip mine blasting using Talon’s materials, and pointed to the state Department of Environmental Protection as the state agency with oversight responsibility.
Last month, DEP Secretary Stephanie Timmermeyer agreed to a deal for Talon to close and clean up its facilities at Herndon, Alpoca and Itmann in Wyoming County and Lakin in Mason County.
A month before that, in December, DEP chief inspector Mike Zeto was informed in writing of the plan to use the Tetryl at mine sites, agency records show.
DEP officials said last week that they did not have a copy of the Army’s plan for disposing of the Tetryl, which was actually owned by the federal government.
Dave Vande Linde, acting director of the DEP Office of Explosives and Blasting, said that mine operators were using the Tetryl in place of or in combination with the ammonium nitrate and fuel oil explosives they typically use to loosen mine overburden.
”We perceived this to be the way this would be disposed of, but we didn’t know for sure,” Vande Linde said. ”That may change now.”
A spokeswoman for the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration said that her agency was not aware of the Army’s deal for the explosives disposal.
”We had absolutely no prior knowledge,” said MSHA spokesman Amy Louviere. ”This was all new information.”
Talon started operations in 1993, and acquired government contracts to disassemble ammunition. The company has had a series of problems, including several explosions, run-ins with environmental regulators, failure to pay workers compensation premiums on time, and bankruptcy reorganization.
In April 2002, a U.S. Department of Defense employee, Daniel L. Powell of Pittsburgh, was sentenced to five years and three months in federal prison for falsely certifying that Talon had disarmed hundreds of thousands of military munitions.
Talon has been unable to find markets for recycled munitions, and has had a series of problems including several explosions, run-ins with environmental regulators, failure to pay workers compensation premiums on time, and bankruptcy reorganization.
The state Jobs Investment Trust has said it expects to lose $1.25 million in public money that it invested in Talon.