Friday 13 June 2014

Three killed in accident at unlicensed mine in eastern Turkey.

Three men have died following an accident at an unlicensed mine near the village of Toptepe in Şırnak Province in eastern Turkey. The men have been named as Selahattin Uçar and brothers Ahmet Baysal and Emin Baysal, who were trapped following a 'landslide' at the mine (probably some sort of tunnel collapse) at about 3.20 pm on Wednesday 11 June 2014. Rescue efforts were hampered by gas in the mine, with two of the rescue team being taken to hospital after inhaling fumes. The bodies of the men were eventually recovered on Thursday 12 June.

The approximate location of the Toptepe mine. Google Maps.

The precise cause of the accident is still yet to be determined, though unlicensed artisanal mines tend to have poor safety standards. It is possible that the gas in the mine was caused by the miners encountering a pocket of pressurized mine within the coal seam, the release of which may also have caused the mine to partially collapse. Alternatively the initial incident may have caused ventilation equipment to fail, leading to a build-up of gas within the mine.

Coal is formed when buried organic material, principally wood, in heated and pressurized, forcing off hydrogen and oxygen (i.e. water) and leaving more-or-less pure carbon. Methane is formed by the decay of organic material within the coal. There is typically little pore-space within coal, but the methane can be trapped in a liquid form under pressure. Some countries have started to extract this gas as a fuel in its own right. When this pressure is released suddenly, as by mining activity, then the methane turns back to a gas, expanding rapidly causing, an explosion. This is a bit like the pressure being released on a carbonated drink; the term 'explosion' does not necessarily imply fire in this context, although as methane is flammable this is quite likely.

Coal is also comprised more or less of pure carbon, and therefore reacts freely with oxygen (particularly when in dust form), to create carbon dioxide and (more-deadly) carbon dioxide, while at the same time depleting the supply of oxygen. This means that subterranean coal mines need good ventilation systems, and that fatalities can occur if these break down.

The incident happens roughly a week after a similar incident in the same area, when miner İbrahim Saknak was killed by a collapse at another unlicensed mine near Toptepe.

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