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MSHA: W.Va. mine's ventilation plans were a hazard

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- Federal regulators said Wednesday they issued 196 citations during February impact inspections at 14 U.S. mines, including 16 at a southern West Virginia coal operation that was targeted for the first time because of ventilation problems.

Mine Safety and Health Administration chief Joe Main said the violations at Coal River Mining's Fork Creek No. 1 Mine in Boone County showed "a complete disregard for the health and safety of miners and for safe mining practices."

They also reflected some of the same conditions that led to the April 2010 explosion of Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch mine, including broken water sprayers on a mining machine.

Multiple investigations found that methane and coal dust fueled the blast at UBB, while broken or clogged water sprayers failed to keep it from propagating. The explosion killed 29 men and became the worst U.S. coal mine disaster in four decades.

At Fork Creek No. 1, inspectors found multiple violations of federal regulations for ventilation, including curtains that were either missing or rolled up.

Failure to maintain proper air flow underground not only increases the risk of explosions but also exposes miners to more of the coal dust that causes black lung disease.

Inspectors also issued orders and citations for accumulations of loose and fine coal, and for failure to properly coat the mine with pulverized limestone to prevent explosions.

MSHA said it took the operator three days to correct all the problems and get the closure orders lifted.