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The Centralia No. 5 Mine Explosion: A Failure In Public Administration

1757 words - 8 pages

Centralia Coal Company was owned by Bell & Zoller Coal & Mining Company. Herbert E. Bell was the Chairman and William P. Young was the Vice President. Illinois ranked third in coal production. Four agencies had authority over coal mining at the time; the state of Illinois, the United States Government, Centralia Coal Company and the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA). The explosion in Centralia No. 5 occurred on March 25, 1947. Beginning with his appointment in 1941, State Mine Inspector Driscoll O. Scanlan sent inspection reports to the Department of Mines and Minerals (DMM) Director Robert M. Medill. The U.S. Bureau of Mines inspected Centralia No. 5 the first time in ...view middle of the document...

It would not have been prudent to press the Centralia Coal Company to shut down the mine and loose profits, to make it safer for the miners.
The reports that were sent to Medill’s office were received, stamped and considered “routine” by the Assistant Director, Robert Weir. Weir processed them and had form letters created and sent to the mine’s owner. Medill never saw the first letters. Weir did not always read the reports he submitted for action and he did not do any follow-up. The Centralia Company did not comply or respond to the letters in those three years. Mr. Weir decided the reports were routine instead of taking the step to discuss the findings with Mr. Scanlan. He just pushed the papers through the process.
The U.S. Bureau of Mines inspection in September 1942 produced 106 recommendations, 33 of which were major. It took the federal government four months to get its report to the Illinois Department of Mines and Minerals. The Department did not take action. Subsequent reports in 1943 and 1944 showed no action had been taken. U.S. Bureau of Mines did not have authority to force compliance, the Illinois Department of Mines and Minerals had the power but failed to act.
In November 1944, Local Union 52 at Centralia initiated a letter to Director Medill stressing the seriousness of the issues. The miners were trying to get help. Weir sent Scanlan to investigate. The issues had all been in his previous reports. Scanlan got mine Superintendant Prudent to agree to some minor efforts but complained there was a “wartime manpower shortage”. Profit was a factor considered and mine manager, Mr. Brown admitted that more coal can be sold in winter so you do not want to stop production to rock dust.
In 1945, as concerns mounted from outside, Medill asked Scanlan to send him a letter detailing the situation. When Medill received it, he passed it on to William Young, VP of Bell & Zoller. Mr. Young cited the wartime man power problem and asked the miners to be patient. After waiting for an unfulfilled promise and an improper activity at the mine, the Union members filed charges against Mine Manager Brown with the State Mining Board. This shows the serious concern of the miners and it is here that Assistant Director Weir of the Department of Mines and Minerals should have been more interested in addressing the problem. After investigating the charges, Weir reported to the Board in Mr. Browns favor and no action was taken against him.
In April 1945, Scanlan gave Superintendant Prudent an ultimatum to shut down or spend three days a week doing clean up – he took the latter. Though this was progress - in order to be effective, cleanup work must be maintained continuously. These few incidents of compliance were not sufficient. Scanlan had finally taken the action he should have initially. When it proved insufficient he should have been able to go to his boss for results.
In December of 1945 issues pushed the miners to their limit again and Union...

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