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Mining Accident and Disasters
Barnett Complex Mine
Ozark-Mahoning Company

Rosiclare, Pope County, Illinois
April 12, 1971 - 7 Killed
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Seven men died Monday, April 12, 1971, as a result of exposure to hydrogen sulfide gas in advance workings on the 800-foot level of the Barnett Complex Mine, Ozark-Mahoning Company, Pope County, Illinois.

Drifting and test drilling operations to locate an ore vein were being conducted at the extreme end of the 800-foot south level, on Friday, April 9.  Near the end of the day shift, the third of three test holes struck a watercourse and water under high pressure was released into the drift.  Work was discontinued in the area, and the water allowed to flow into the drift on the belief the body of water would soon be drained.  Reportedly, hydrogen sulfide was not liberated on Friday; the two workers who were drilling did not smell the gas or suffer eye irritation.

The presence of hydrogen sulfide gas was first detected during the day shift on Saturday, when two miners, out of curiosity, went to the face to look at the water flow.  The miners reported that the gas irritated their eyes and caused "tightness" in their chests.

At some time between the end of the second shift on Saturday and Monday morning, one of three fans in the auxiliary ventilation system for the 800 south level failed.  What ventilation existed at the south end of the 800-foot level thereafter is unknown.

On Monday, April 12, installation of a replacement fan was completed shortly after noon.  Before the fan was started, a miner went inby the fan to obtain measuring sticks.  He was seen by the men installing the fan, but testimony is not clear as to his being aware of or warned of a potential danger.  In about a half hour, the miner's brother went into the area to look for him.  When neither of the two men returned, other miners, without respiratory protection, attempted rescue.  At this time the replacement fan was started.  In the course of events, five additional miners were overcome while several others, although repeatedly entering the drift and being affected by the gas, did escape by cutting into the ventilation tubing for fresh air.

At approximately 1:30 p.m., the Company officials notified the Illinois Department of Mines and Minerals of the accident.

General Information

The Barnett Complex Mine, an underground fluorspar-lead-zinc operation, is located adjacent to State Highway 146, six miles north of Golconda, Illinois.  Ozark-Mahoning Company sank the Barnett shaft in 1966 and connected it to the sixth level of the Parkinson Mine, which then formed the present Barnett Complex Mine.

Twenty-two men were employed underground on two 8-hour shifts a day, six days a week.  Ore production averaged approximately 250 tons a day.  Principal products were fluorite, galena, and sphalerite.

A Federal inspection was made of the Barnett Complex Mine under P. L. 89-577, September 9-10, 1970, at which time the eighth level south drift heading was approximately 450 feet away from the location where the hydrogen-sulfide-bearing water was encountered.  That inspection did not reveal any conditions bearing on the disaster.  A spot inspection to check abatements of violations cited September 9-10, 1970, was made February 10, 1971.

Story of Disaster

On Monday morning, April 12, 1971, the day shift went underground at 7:00 a.m.  Normal mining operations were resumed in the stopes and two men were assigned to remove the faulty inby fan.  Another fan was obtained from the company's West Green property and delivered to the Barnett mine.

Testimony did not establish that the miners were explicitly prohibited from entering exploration workings of the 800 south drift.  However, it does imply that the foreman and the lead man talked to most if not all of the men, telling them that there would be no work in that 800 S location.  K. Clanton testified that he had advised William E. Long not to go back there.

Three men, Gale Bates, H. Dutton, and J. Jenkins, were assigned to install the new fan late in the morning and completed the installation at about 12:30 p.m.  Shortly before they completed the installation, at about 12 noon, William E. Long, a miner working in 85 stope came by, saying he was going a short distance inby the fan to get a "slide stick to measure timber."  The stick was supposed to have been at a manway being developed just inby the fan.  Just as the fan installation was completed, Philip W. Long arrived and a short while later, G. Davis, William E. Long's partner, arrived looking for him.  When Foreman Phillip W. Long learned his brother had gone toward the face, he immediately went to look for him taking a small battery-powered locomotive.  A short time later K. Clan- ton, shift leader, arrived, having learned that William E. Long had gone inby the fan and had not returned.  Clanton took G. Davis with him and went to search for the two Long brothers.  They found both men down, lying on the drift floor at a point approximately 110 feet from the face and well beyond the point where the measuring stick should have been.  At this point, Clanton and Davis were forced back by the effects of the gas.  They then proceeded back to the fan and advised the three men there that the two Long brothers were overcome, and if additional men went in, that they should not take any chances and to be careful.  Bates was sent back to the shaft to get a big locomotive, and the fan was started in an attempt to force fresh air back to the unconscious men.  Clanton and Davis proceeded towards the shaft to warn the men in the stopes and to get help.

In successive attempts various men entered and reentered the affected area.  They all suffered the effects of the gas to some degree and five additional men were overcome.  In these attempts a second, larger locomotive was used, carrying three workers into the gas-laden drift.  They placed two men on the motors and got out to a point just inby 881758 raise before being overcome by the hydrogen sulfide gas.  Restarting the inby fan tended to force high concentrations of hydrogen sulfide outward from the South 800 face area toward the main shaft in addition to diluting gas in the face area with fresh air.

V. English, M. Ewell, W. Palmer, H. Dutton, and C. Long attempted to help but were forced back by the effects of the gas.  They were able to make their way back to the shaft by slitting the ventilation tubing and taking advantage of the fresh air from it.

Investigation of Cause of Disaster

Concurrent but separate investigations of the disaster were made by the Illinois Department of Mines and Minerals and the United States Bureau of Mines.

Cause of Disaster

The disaster was caused by:
  1. The failure of mine officials and workers to recognize the lethal character of concentrated hydrogen sulfide gas owing in part to intermittent exposure to the gas over a period of years in quantities which produced no lasting harmful effects.  (The last previously known fatality in a metal mine, due to hydrogen sulfide gas, occurred in 1925.)

  2. While the forced ventilation system in the mine was satisfactory for normal operations, the system on the eighth level proved to be inadequate for the unusual situation which was created by (1) the prolonged inflow of water containing hydrogen sulfide and (2) the failure of one of the inline fans.

  3. The area was not "dangered off" as a follow up to any oral warnings that may have been given to the men, and checks were not made on the concentrations of hydrogen sulfide in the eighth level south drift at the start of the day shift, April 12, 1971.

  4. The failure of mine management and workers to realize that, until the fans had been operated for a length of time sufficient to assure removal of concentrations of the gas, the entire 800 South drift was hazardous.

Characteristics of Hydrogen Sulfide Gas

Hydrogen Sulfide

Hydrogen sulfide, H2S, (sulfureted hydrogen, hydrogen monosulfide, referred to as "stink damp" by miners) is a colorless, highly toxic, and irritant gas which has an extremely unpleasant, rotten egg odor at low concentrations and a sweetish odor at higher concentrations.  Since its specific gravity (1.19) is somewhat higher than that of air (1.00), it tends to accumulate in deep cavities such as vats, tanks, ditches, ravines, and cellars.

Hydrogen sulfide forms explosive mixtures with air or oxygen and is dangerously flammable upon ignition.  Water at room temperature absorbs approximately three times its own volume of the gas.  It is also soluble in petroleum solvents, crude petroleum, and carbon disulfide.

Briefly, the principal sources of hydrogen sulfide that are of importance from the viewpoint of hazards are: gypsum mines, sulfur mines and wells, caissons and tunnels, natural gas production and refining of high sulfur petroleum, sewers and other places where organic matter decomposes in confined spaces, blasting with black powder and blasting with other explosives in heavy sulfide ore, gas manufacture, low temperature carbonization of coal, manufacture of chemicals, dyes, and pigments, vulcanization of rubber, glue manufacture, tanning, spinning of viscous rayon, and treatment of sewage.

In addition to these places of primary importance, the gas occurs in the water of some mineral springs, rock-fissure gases, volcanic gases, and from bacterial action in brackish waters.  Some of these, however, are associated with the important sources of hazards mentioned above, as the occurrence of hydrogen sulfide bearing water in gypsum mines, rock strata gases in mines and tunnels, and bacterial action or decomposition of organic matter in sewers.

The gas may be liberated to the air directly from the original source or place where it is generated or, due to its solubility in water and oil, it may be transported in solution great distances from its original source and then escape and create dangerous atmospheres at unsuspected places.  In mines, tunnels, and caissons the presence of the gas may be due entirely to the inflow of hydrogen sulfide bearing water and its escape into the air.

Hydrogen sulfide does not always present a health hazard in the situations cited, but the possible occurrence of a health hazard is worthy of consideration when investigating injury or accident from exposure to gas at such places, and in the planning and designing of industrial and engineering equipment and projects where the gas might jeopardize the health and safety of persons.

Hydrogen sulfide has a distinctive, unpleasant odor in low concentrations.  However, the sense of smell is not a reliable indicator of the presence of hydrogen sulfide because the gas has a tendency to numb the olfactory receptors and this can occur very rapidly at higher concentrations.  The gas has two apparent physiological actions - subacute and acute poisoning.  The former is a direct irritating action of the gas on the moist body tissues of the eyes and the lining of the respiratory tract.  On the other hand, acute poisoning is the result of a toxic action on the nervous system produced by the absorption and presence of hydrogen sulfide in the blood.  Unconsciousness and respiratory failure usually occurs within a few seconds after exposure and the important reaction is paralysis of respiration followed in 5 to 10 minutes by cardiac failure.  There are no warning symptoms and no pain.  Death from acute poisoning is due primarily to asphyxia.  Death is as rapid as in poisoning by cyanide.

Experience has repeatedly shown that if rescue is effected and artificial respiration applied within a few minutes after the victim is overcome, life can be saved almost invariably.  On the other hand, experience has also shown that a delay of 10 to 15 minutes jeopardizes the chances of recovery, though this should not be taken as an excuse for laxity in carrying out the prescribed treatment.

The importance of self-protection of those attempting to effect rescue should be emphasized.  Cases are on record where the first, second, and even the third person coming to the rescue of fellow workmen have all been overcome.