CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Federal coal mine regulators have concluded that a widely used emergency breathing device doesn't meet safety standards but have not yet taken any action to get the equipment out of the nation's mines.
This week, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health issued a long-awaited report on its investigation of problems with CSE Corp.'s SR-100 model self-contained self-rescuer, or SCSR.
NIOSH said an investigation of longer than two years has found a "critical" defect, in that too many of a random sample of SR-100 units had faulty oxygen starter devices.
The report said that five units out of 500 tested by NIOSH failed a test of an oxygen cylinder that kick-starts the devices. Under federal rules, no more than three of the 500 units could fail the test for NIOSH to be confident the SR-100 had an acceptable failure rate.
"Based on the findings of the investigation, the field-deployed CSE SR-100 units no longer conform to the minimum requirements for the certification" under federal rules, the NIOSH report concluded.
Though Pittsburgh-based CSE has come out with a new model with a different starter system, more than 70,000 SR-100 units are still in use in coal mines around the country.
NIOSH officials said Tuesday that they are still talking with the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration, trying to develop a joint plan to deal with the matter.
"We've had several meetings," said Maryann D'Alessandro, director of NIOSH's personal protective technology laboratory. "We'll continue to have meetings."
Through a spokeswoman, MSHA chief Joe Main on Tuesday declined an interview request, saying he wanted to review the new report and discuss it with NIOSH before commenting. MSHA was given the 24-page report on Friday, and NIOSH briefed top MSHA officials on their findings in early January.
The CSE emergency breathing devices have been under scrutiny for at least six years, when Sago Mine Disaster survivor Randal McCloy testified that the SR-100s of four of the 12 miners trapped by the Jan. 2, 2006, explosion wouldn't start.
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. Over the years, coal miners had expressed similar complaints about SCSRs not starting or appearing to start slowly. Government and industry officials generally dismissed those complaints, saying the real problem was that miners didn't understand how to use the units properly.