CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Federal regulators are working on a plan to phase out the most commonly used emergency breathing device in the coal-mining industry, but have no timeline for getting hundreds of potentially faulty units out of the mines.
U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration officials revealed their intentions Wednesday, just a week after the troubled device's manufacturer -- CSE Corp. -- announced government approval for a new model of self-contained self-rescuer, or SCSR.
Neither MSHA nor the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has specifically compared the new device with CSE's troubled SR-100 model.
Agency officials also have not investigated CSE marketing that promotes the new Self-Rescuer Long Duration, or SRLD, as producing 40 percent more oxygen during the initial start-up and 10 percent more total breathable air.
"We don't test for that," Jeff Kravitz, MSHA's chief of scientific development, told the Gazette in an interview.
Scott Shearer, president of Monroeville, Pa.-based CSE Corp., did not return a phone call. In a press release last week, Shearer called approval of his company's new device "a tremendously important step for the continued improvement of safety and support for miners."
"The quality of the new SRLD is unmatched and once in the field to our customers, the SRLD will be the smallest, lightest, fastest working unit available in its class," Shearer said in the release.
CSE said the new SRLD also includes new indicators to warn of damage from water vapor or temperature.
"This product is designed with both miner safety and miner convenience in mind and we have pulled out all the stops," Shearer said. "We look forward to manufacturing this device and getting it to our customers who are equally as excited."
Under federal law, all coal miners must be provided with a self-rescue device that will provide them with at least an hour's worth of breathable air to escape in the event of an underground fire or explosion.
The SR-100 model uses a chemical process to generate oxygen, based in part on a reaction with carbon dioxide being exhaled by its user. An estimated 70,000 SR-100 units -- and perhaps as many as 90,000 -- are in use in coal mines across the country.