“It feels like an earthquake,” Bowman said. Sometimes, the blasts have shaken the deer heads off the wall, cracked the windows and made the house shift so doors won’t close properly. The water has drained out of the two ponds behind his house, and he can’t keep enough in the ponds for his pet fish.
Dust from the blasting filled the long valley three times this summer: once in June, once in July and again on August 2. One day it was so bad that Bowman couldn’t see to drive down the road.
Roger Hollandsworth agrees that the blasting is bad. Hollandsworth has lived in his tidy home for 34 years. The yard is filled with flowers, Rose of Sharon and other flowering trees and shrubs. His mother lives just up the road, a bit closer to the mine.
Like the Bowmans, his mother keeps a careful record of the blasts. After a couple years of problems, the mine now calls her and a few other nearby residents when a blast is about to go off. But that doesn’t stop the blasts from being annoying. She only writes down the bad blasts, with notations like: “Very bad-loud-shook house.”
“They are hurting us down here,” Hollandsworth said. During the summer, someone put up a sign: “Blasting next six miles. “It will blow you off the highway.”
For the most part, the residents have dealt mainly with the mine management. In one case early in 2000, an improperly designed blast blew the windows out at the Falls’ garage, which is usually the closest protected structure. Mr. Falls said that some of the holes of one blast had not gone off. Then when a new blast was set off nearby, the unfired holes went off as well. This was not reported to DEP, however.
When the DEP inspector is called, he does a thorough inspection. Most of the time, he accompanies his findings with a one-page explanation of blasting. Each time, he writes: “Air blasts often feel like ground vibrations and are similar to the sonic booms generated by jets breaking the sound barrier. Air blasts over 115dB are known to be irritating to persons in the area and often result in citizen complaints.” Most of the blasts at this mine for which there are decibel readings do exceed 115 dB. In fact, Evergreen got a violation in April 8, 1999 when it blasted 139 dB, well over the 133 dB limit.
(Note: I spoke with Roger Hollandsworth in early March 2001. He said the blasting is much, much better now. There are still some loud blasts, but there haven’t been the fumes or the shaking of the past few years. He said inspector Keith Evans is at the mine two or three days a week. He has them adjust the blasts and shoot earlier in the day. Roger and Keith visit regularly so that Keith knows how the blasts are impacting the community. They seem to have developed a plan that could be a model for other communities.)
Of the 111 blasts analyzed, 47 generated problems for residents. A few were complaints filed with DEP, while the rest were noted by Mrs. Hollandsworth or the Bowmans.
Most of the complaints stemmed from two factors: Blasts that exceeded the scaled-distance formula or came close to it. And the larger, shallow binder shots.
This mine most frequently exceeded the permissible limits for explosives per delay. As the inspector noted, regulations allow this since the mine placed a seismograph at the nearest protected structure, usually the Falls or the Hughes houses. Mr. Falls said that he was protected from the blasts by the mountain, unlike his neighbors. The mine never told him, he said, that it could have larger than allowed blasts because the seismograph was at his house.
All nine blasts that exceeded the limit caused complaints. Six triggered a seismograph, with air blasts measuring between 124 dB and 131 dB.
Of the 12 blasts that were more than 50 percent of the permitted amount per delay, eight generated complaints.
The other factor that appeared to cause a lot of complaints were the larger binder shots. Because these have holes that usually aren’t more than 10 feet deep, they don’t shoot a lot of explosive. But the shortness of the holes often makes them generate more vibration and larger air blasts. It is difficult to design an efficient blast with such shallow holes. The adverse impacts could be reduced with holes of smaller diameter. But I have not seen any mines that use 6-inch diameter holes. Usually the holes are either 7 7/8 or 9 inches. The mines say it would be too expensive to buy smaller drills.
A blasting supervisor for Evergreen said that the mine shoots a lot of binder shots because the coal lies close to the surface in numerous areas. Of the 35 shots less than 10 feet deep, 12 generated complaints. Half of those were over 9,000 pounds. Of the other 23 binder shots that did not cause problems, only two were more than 9,000 pounds.
This mine and Mingo-Logan and Princess Beverly were the three that shot two or more times nearly at the same minute. There were 19 shots within minutes of each other. Twelve of those combined shots caused complaints. The ones that did not were less than 10,000 pounds or a small fraction of the permitted amount per delay.
The few other troublesome blasts that were not explained by these factors had notations on them about unusual design or problems with the blast.
I spoke with Barry Doss, chief engineer for Addington’s West Virginia mines. He said that the major reason for the high air blasts is that this area has a lot of cloudy days. When clouds are low, the sound waves will bounce back to the ground at wider angles, which is why air blasts can sometimes be heard two miles away. He doesn’t know what can be done about the clouds. But he said air blasts can be lowered by reducing the amount of explosives per hole and by increasing stemming (cover over the explosives in the hole).
Evergreen uses a dragline, which is why its blasts sometimes exceed scaled-distance limits and why it uses larger holes than the other mines. The dragline has to have a lot of rock to keep working steadily, he said.
I asked him about the shots that generated a lot of dust and smoke. If the smoke was yellow and smelled, the holes may have been wet, he explained. If a blast has to sit overnight before being detonated water can get into the holes. The best way to avoid problems is to load the holes and detonate them immediately.
Both Evergreen and Princess Beverly tend to shoot two or more blasts at the same time because it is more economical. This way they only have to clear the area once, and generally they do the simultaneous blasts at the afternoon shift change.
The men who design and shoot the blasts don’t get to go to seminars, he said. So they rely on the expertise of the explosives company when they have problems. “There are always minor adjustments can be made because blasting more of an art than science,” he said.
Continue to in-depth analyses of blasting problems in nine communities:
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