British Columbia

Lack of oxygen killed 4 at B.C. mine: report

A waste dump leaching air with little oxygen in it killed four people at an old mine in B.C. last May, the province's chief mine inspector said Monday.

A lack of oxygen killed four people ata decommissioned mine in southeastern British Columbia last May, the province's chief mine inspector said Monday.

As he released his report into the incident, Fred Hermann called the accident "unprecedented in the history of mining."

Four people— two mine employees and two ambulance paramedics — died in a tiny water-sampling hut at the Sullivan mine just outside Kimberley.

Environmental consultant Doug Erickson was the first victim.

He had entered the hutto conducttests andbeen overcome.His spouse, after not hearing from him,sounded the alert two days later.

Teck Cominco employee Bob Newcombe was sent to the mine to check on Erickson. He went into the shed, saw Erickson's body in the water, assumed he had drownedand called 911 for help before collapsing himself.

Paramedics Kim Weitzel and Shawn Currier, who rushed to thescene,also succumbed to the lack of oxygenwhen they tried to rescue the two men.

No oxygen at bottom of shed

Hermann has concluded that there was almost a complete lack of oxygen down at the sump pit of the shed.

However, he noted, oxygen levels were almost normal at head height in the tiny hut. As a result, he said, the two Teck Cominco employees who died would have had no reason to suspect they were in any danger.

And, Hermann said, he wouldn't have done anything differently himself on May 17, despite his 25 years of mining experience.

However, healso said inadequate hazardous situation training may have contributed to the death of Currier, the second paramedic who entered the shed after his partner collapsed.

Hermann said he suspects the oxygen-deficient atmosphere was created when an old dump nearby was covered, and that the bad air entered the bottom of the shed through a water-intake pipe.

Safety measures reinforced

This summer, Hermann had ordered interim safety precautions at other decommissioned mine sites in B.C. where water-testing sheds are downstream from mine waste.

They include testing the air quality inside the shed before anyone enters, and adding ventilation systems.

On Monday, he recommended those directives remain in place and that further safety measures be implemented.

Hermann said the company was negligent in not having properlogging of who was at the old mine site, but said that negligence had nothing to do with the tragedy.

Bill Bennett, B.C.'s minister of state for mines,acknowledged that some family members of the victims are upset that Hermann has ruled the company's violation did not contribute to the accident, which means the company will not be fined.

He said the families think the company should be penalized in some way.

The company says it's following all of the inspector's recommendations, to ensure a tragedy of this kind isn't repeated.