AML - Hazards of Abandoned Mines

Hazardous abandoned mine problems include open shafts and horizontal openings resulting from underground mining and unstable vertical cliff-like highwalls, dangerous water bodies, rusting machinery, and defective explosives from surface mines. Many of these hazards are the result of mining that occurred many years ago - some before 1900. There is nothing of value left in abandoned mines; that's why they were abandoned. Federal and state reclamation agencies are working to reclaim abandoned mines. But there are so many of them left that it is vital to know about abandoned mine dangers and stay away from them. Take a look at this STAY OUT STAY ALIVE brochure.

New Mexico AML Safety Video
The Abandoned Mine Land Program developed a safety awareness video called Hidden Dangers: The Legacy of New Mexico's Abandoned Mines. You can see a condensed 5-minute version of the film here in either high resolution and low resolution format. You can also request a full-length video from our program by contacting Mike Tompson at (505) 476-3427.

Bad Air
"Bad air" is one of a miner's greatest fears. While most dangers are obvious, air containing poisonous gases or insufficient oxygen cannot be detected until too late. Poisonous gases accumulate in low areas and along the floor. Walking into these low spots causes the good air above to stir up the bad air below, producing a potentially lethal mixture.

Another aspect of bad air is found when exploring mine shafts. While descending into a shaft may be relatively easy, climbing out may prove to be very dangerous. Climbing produces a level of exertion that causes a person to breathe deeper than normal. This increases the level of noxious gases being inhaled. This may result in dizziness, unconsciousness and possibly death. Furthermore, even if the gases prove to be non-lethal, they may cause the victim to fall while climbing.

Standing water absorbs many gases. These gases will remain in the water until disturbed such as when a person while through it. As the gases are released, they rise behind the walker where they remain as an unseen danger when the person retraces his steps.
Adit and Collar Cave-ins
An adit is a horizontal mine opening. Adit entrances can be especially dangerous because weathered rock deteriorates over time.

Cave-ins are unpredictable. Often, areas most likely to cave-in are the hardest to detect. Minor disturbances like the vibrations from footsteps or speaking can cause cave-ins. The sudden crush of falling earth produces either serious injury or instant death. Perhaps even more terrifying is being trapped behind a cave-in with little or no chance of rescue; in effect being buried alive.
Adit Entrance to an Abandoned Mine (Crescent Mine)

There are numerous ways to get injured by falling at an abandoned mine. Some are obvious, such as falling off a highwall or down a shaft. Others are not so evident.

Ladders made of wood can have broken and decayed rungs as well as rusted nails. Some can even collapse from dry rot under their own weight. Metal ladders are not any better as their anchors are often broken or placed in unstable rock. Stepping on the ladder may cause it and the entire shaft to collapse. All ladders are dangerous!

Mine tunnels frequently have shafts in them that are covered with boards. These timbers may be hidden under dirt, fallen rock or other debris. The weight of a person on these old boards might cause them to collapse without warning, sending the victim tumbling deep into the shaft.

Loose Rock
Rock degrades over time by being exposed to air and water. Loose rocks can fall at any time and cause serious head injuries.
Even experienced miners hesitate to handle old explosives. They realize the ingredients in explosives will deteriorate with age and can detonate at the slightest touch. Many abandoned mines contain old explosives left behind when the operation closed down. Innocent looking sticking and blasting caps are potential killers.

The structures around abandoned mine sites gradually deteriorate and at best can be extremely hazardous. Going into old buildings or climbing on old structures can be very dangerous as they may collapse.At least eight people have died in abandoned mines in New Mexico since record keeping began in 1960.

Regardless of the type of mine, remember to stay away if you spot what appears to be an abandoned mine. It could be dangerous. And if you are in an area where coal has been mined, watch where you are going. You may stumble across an abandoned mine when you least expect it. So, be alert!

Don't go looking for abandoned mines, but if you find what you think is an abandoned mine shaft, tunnel, or other danger, mark the location so it can be easily spotted. Be careful not to go too close. Then report what you found to relevant public land agency and the AML Program. Be prepared to describe the approximate location, identifying landmarks, nearby trails, or other characteristics that will help authorities locate the mine. Reporting the location of abandoned mines is a public service. You will be protecting others from danger, and helping America maintain and improve the environment.

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