Every year, dozens of people are injured or killed in recreational accidents on mine property.
Mines are located in every state — from small sand and gravel operations to complex underground coal, salt, limestone or metal mines, to extensive surface operations that use some of the largest industrial equipment ever built. There are about 14,000 active and as many as 500,000 abandoned mines in the nation. As cities and towns spread into the surrounding countryside and more people visit remote locations, the possibility of contact with an active or abandoned mine increases.
The men and women employed in our nation’s mines are trained to work in a safe manner. For the average explorer, hiker, off-roader or rockhound, however, the hazards are not always apparent. Active and abandoned mine sites have proved to be an irresistible–and sometimes deadly–draw for children and adults.
Types of Safety Hazards
Open Shafts are vertical mine openings that can extend hundreds of feet to the lower level of a mine. Open shafts can be concealed by mine debris, dirt, rock, and even water.
Unstable Rock and Decayed Support includes once solid beams and frameworks that have been decaying for more than a hundred years. In many cases, there may be no support beams at all and the fractured roof or walls of the mine tunnel eventually collapse in response to vibrations and/or the force of gravity.
Deadly Gases and Lack of Oxygen can be present in abandoned mines that are not ventilated. Pockets of methane, carbon dioxide, and other deadly gases can form or simply displace oxygen with no visible sign. When these gases enter the body, muscles stop responding normally, thinking becomes clouded, and unconsciousness and death can occur.
Explosives and Toxic Chemicals were often left behind when an active mining operation was abandoned. Explosives such as dynamite and blasting caps become very unstable over time, and can explode if disturbed. Storage containers, boxes, barrels, and drums deteriorate allowing toxic chemicals to leak or combine into highly dangerous mixtures.
Horizontal and Vertical Openings can be miles of openings that randomly follow the original ore veins. Within a short distance of the entrance there is no light, and these openings can be the cause of becoming lost and disoriented inside a mine.
Highwalls and Open Pits are located where large areas of the surface have been disturbed to get at minerals near the surface. Open pits can be filled with water that can be highly acidic or laden with harmful chemicals. Highwalls can be unstable at the top and the bottom and are prone to collapse. When approached from the top, the vertical edge of a highwall may not be seen in time or may crumble, leading to a fatal fall.
Stay Out–Stay Alive is a national public awareness campaign aimed at warning children and adults about the dangers of exploring and playing on active and abandoned mine sites. The campaign is a partnership of more than 70 federal and state agencies, private organizations, businesses and individuals.