Researchers from around the country gathered in Charleston for the first informational meeting for the Alpha Foundation, a mine safety and health organization formed with a portion of the multimillion-dollar settlement in the Upper Big Branch mine disaster.
U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin led the investigation against Massey Energy, which was subsequently bought by Alpha Natural Resources, after the April 2010 explosion that claimed the lives of 29 coal miners.
That investigation, which remains ongoing, resulted in Alpha paying $209 million to avoid corporate criminal charges.
Goodwin said $48 million of the settlement was set aside for mine safety and health research.
The payment is the largest ever in a criminal investigation of workplace safety. The foundation is believed to be the largest of its kind in recent history.
"This is something that doesn't come along often, if ever, and may never happen again," Goodwin said at the meeting Wednesday.
The foundation's board of directors met with researchers Wednesday at Embassy Suites to learn more about what researchers are looking into. Goodwin said the meeting was not to "start doling out money," but to talk about the best ways the money could be spent.
Wednesday's meeting drew researchers and professors from Utah, South Dakota and Canada. Mining industry leaders were also on hand.
Participants included Joe Main, assistant secretary for the U.S. Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration; Jeffrey Kohler, director of the Office of Mine Safety and Health Research at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health; Dennis O'Dell, safety and health director for the United Mine Workers union; and Bruce Watzman, senior vice president of the National Mining Association.
"This is a great opportunity for people in the mine safety and health research field," Goodwin said. "They've devoted their careers to mine safety so they're very interested in what's happening here."
Topics ranged from disaster prevention and response to acute and chronic diseases faced by miners. Potential areas for research included black lung disease, technology aimed at preventing the build up of explosive gas and dust in mines, better communications systems and improved rescue capabilities.
"It's clear from the agenda laid out today that they're taking their time and working to identify key areas," Goodwin said. "There are a lot of critical issues and things they're looking at industry wide."