MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The University of Arizona, Virginia Tech and West Virginia University are among
the first group of winners of research grants for a wide array of mine health
and safety issues at the nation’s mines.
The Alpha Foundation announced Monday it is awarding the first $10 million of
the $48 million it has to spend. Sixteen research proposals won initial
approval, and final budgets for them are now being discussed.
Chairman Michael Karmis said the proposals were chosen from a pool of 160, and
more will be solicited in the future.
The only non-academic winner in the first round is the United Steelworkers,
which will focus on identifying and controlling hazards in metal and non-metal
The other winners are the Colorado School of Mines, Northeastern University,
University of California-Berkeley, University of Illinois at Chicago, and the
universities of Kentucky, Utah, Pittsburgh and Connecticut.
Virginia Tech will work on through-the-earth communication systems and a new
risk-management approach to safety, while WVU will work on safety systems at
surface mines and mobile training technology. WVU’s grants will go through the
Northeastern University will focus on whole-body vibration exposure and injury
prevention at open-pit coal mines, while UC-Berkeley will focus on heart disease
and lung cancer deaths linked to particulate matter and diesel exhaust.
The foundation aims to fill gaps and overcomer barriers to scientific research,
not duplicate existing work. It was formed under a $210 million settlement
between the U.S. Department of Justice and Virginia-based Alpha Natural
Resources after the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster.
Alpha bought the former Massey Energy Co., which owned Upper Big Branch in
southern West Virginia when a massive explosion ripped through its underground
corridors in 2010, killing 29 men. It was the worst U.S. coal mining disaster in
The non-prosecution agreement spared the company from facing criminal charges,
but individuals are still on the hook for their conduct. Two Upper Big Branch
officials and a former Massey executive who ran other mines are already behind
The agreement consisted of $35 million in fines for safety violations at Upper
Big Branch and other Massey mines, $46.5 million in restitution to the miners’
families and $128 million for safety improvements, research and training. Alpha
agreed to invest $48 million of that in a mine-safety research trust, and the
foundation was formed the following April.
Alpha Foundation: http://www.alpha-foundation.org/