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Upper Big Branch fund awards research grants

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- About $10 million in mine safety research grants have been awarded in the first projects funded by a foundation set up as part of a legal settlement following the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster.

A foundation set up under a deal with U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin announced the first awards, releasing a list of projects funded at universities around the country.

"I want to put top-notch scientists to work on making mines safer. That's what these research grants do. They're an investment in the health and safety of our miners, and I believe they'll yield life-saving innovations," Goodwin said.

Among those receiving funding from the Alpha Foundation for the Improvement of Mine Safety and Health were West Virginia University, the University of Kentucky, Virginia Tech, and the Colorado School of Mines. Topics of funded studies include development of a new rock-dust sampling device, heart disease and lung cancer among miners and applying risk management programs to the mining industry.

"The Foundation has been most pleased with the depth of research and innovation evident in the proposals and the potential impact on safety and health needs in the mining industry," said Michael Karmis, a Virginia Tech researcher and president of the foundation.

Alpha Natural Resources funded the foundation as part of its $209 million deal to avoid any corporate criminal prosecution for the April 5, 2010, explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine, which Alpha acquired as part of its purchase of Massey Energy.

Karmis and two other researchers, Keith Heasley of West Virginia University and David Wegman of the University of Massachusetts-Lowell are leading the effort, and selected the 16 funded projects from 160 proposals the foundation received.

Under the settlement, Alpha set aside $48 million for foundation research grants. The foundation said that subsequent calls for proposals will be issued in the near future to provide funding for additional research projects related to safety and health within the mining community.

The funded projects in the first round, announced Monday, were:

| Colorado School of Mines -- Numerical Modeling Methodologies for Assessing Burst Potential in Coal Mines; Development of a New Rock Dust Sampling Instrument.

| University of Kentucky -- The Application of Flooded Bed Dust Scrubbers to Longwall Mining Systems.

| University of Utah -- Control of Spontaneous Combustion Using Pressure Balancing Techniques.

| Virginia Tech -- Operational Sensitivity of Through-the-Earth Communication; Improved Safety through Application of Risk Management in US Underground Coal Mines: A RISKGATE Approach.

| West Virginia University -- Integrated Surface Mining Safety System; Enhanced Mobile Equipment Experiential Learning and Safety Technology Demonstration.

| Northeastern University -- Whole Body Vibration Exposure and Injury Prevention of Heavy Equipment Operators in Open Pit Coal Mines.

| University of California, Berkeley -- Ischemic Heart Disease and Lung Cancer Mortality in Relation to Respirable Particulate Matter and Diesel Exhaust in Non-Metal Miners.

| University of Illinois at Chicago -- Clarifying Distribution, Trends, and Determinants of Adverse Health in United State Miners: Exploration and Integration of Existing Data Systems and Clinical Materials.

| University of Pittsburgh -- Connecting Dust Characteristics and Worker Health in Underground Coal Mining.

| United Steelworkers -- Characteristics of, and Barriers to Effective Hazardous Identification and Control Programs in U.S. Metal and Non-Metal Mines.

| University of Arizona -- Implementation of Risk Management Programs: Identification of Best Practices to Reduce Injuries and Maximize Economic Benefits; Effective Mining Safety Training - Design, Implementation and Evaluation.

| University of Connecticut Health Center -- The Mining Health Workplace Program (MHWP).

Reach Ken Ward at kward@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.


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