Grand Falls-Windsor -
A gas leak at the Duck Pond mine two years ago has resulted in the Department of Government Services bringing charges against a mining company under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
The charges resulted from an investigation by the department's Occupational Health and Safety Branch. Charges include failing to do the following: providing a safe workplace, making workers familiar with the hazards that may be met by them at the workplace, providing sufficient ventilation, undertaking regular inspections, and to provide the necessary training and instruction that would ensure the health and safety of its workers.
The incident occurred in January 2008 at the site near Millertown, where Teck Cominco operates its zinc and copper mine. After a scheduled blast, the next shift went to work as usual underground. However, the blast caused a leak of sulphur dioxide, a substance that naturally occurs in the earth. Monitors at the site failed to detect the gas, but the men and women working 250 metres underground sensed the leak because of the smell.
The mine was promptly evacuated, but 18 workers ended up in the hospital at Grand Falls-Windsor for observation and treatment.
The first court date was Jan. 6 at provincial court in Grand Falls-Windsor; the second appearance is March 3. The company did not issue a statement in relation to the charges. Teck's Human Resources superintendent Larry Bartlett said the company was "just going to move forward" with the case.
"We really don't have a lot to say about it," he said. "We are preparing a defence."
Shortly after the original incident two years ago, Bartlett told media there were underground detectors linked to monitors to a shift office. Bartlett said the problem could have been in one of many facets of the system from the sensors and communication links to the monitors and computer software.
Sulphur dioxide gas is not one to be messed with. Effects include an irritated throat and difficulty breathing. The main natural sources of sulphur dioxide are volcanoes, forest fires and oceans. What is being mined at Duck Pond is a sulphide-based ore, the remnants of the ancient volcanoes present hundreds of millions of years ago in what is now Newfoundland's central region. Most copper and zinc mines are in that type of environment.
Approximately 300 people are employed at the Duck Pond mine, which officially opened in May 2007.