Unemployment in West Virginia is driving people towards undertaking riskier assignments such as unauthorized copper extraction in abandoned coal mines. In one such incident, three people were lost in a nonoperational coal mine in the state after they entered an abandoned shaft in search of the metal. Fortunately, they were found alive on Wednesday after the Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training intervened.
The incident has highlighted the dangers associated with mining copper without permits in a bid to escape poverty in one of the most affluent states. This has prompted authorities to make four arrests in incidents related to copper theft and breaking into two mines without permits. The West Virginia Coal Mine Association has also called for lawmakers to mandate stricter punishment for breaking into abandoned mines, including jail-term as it possesses a grave risk for people attempting to extract copper.
The problem has grown so severe recently that the West Virginia Coal Mine Association has pushed state lawmakers for stricter punishments for people who break into abandoned mines. The group is calling for those caught to face heavier fines or even jail time.
Senior Vice President Chris Hamilton of the West Virginia Coal Mine Agency was quoted as saying: “It just consumes a lot of time and resources of safety and rescue professionals whose time is needed elsewhere,”
Earlier in the week, Kayla Williams (25 years), Erica Treadway (31 years) and Cody Beverly (21 years) were lost and later located alive inside Elk Run Coal’s Rock House Powellton mine near Clear Creek in Charleston. A fourth miner, Eddie Williams escaped the shaft Monday evening. Police have not confirmed if the group will face criminal charges for the incident.
During the rescue, crews had used fans to move fresh air into the mine while pumps cleared standing water inside the shaft, however the water levels remained too high which briefly hampered search efforts. According to officials, coal had not been mined at the location for the past two years.
The incident clearly highlights the growing problem of unemployment in the area which forces people to carry out copper theft in coal mines without adequate safety gear and knowledge about the stability of the mine. It is therefore a social prerogative of the state and private entities to provide alternate work opportunities to job seekers, while lawmakers impose a strict legislation against illegal copper mining in the region.