"For more than 100 years, WVU has been training not only the next generation of mining engineers, but also offering training and certification programs for miners already working in the industry," said Gene Cilento, dean of the Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources. "Their safety is of our utmost concern."
Northeastern University will focus on whole-body vibration exposure and injury prevention at open-pit coal mines, while UC-Berkeley will focus on heart disease and lung cancer deaths linked to particulate matter and diesel exhaust.
The foundation aims to fill gaps and overcomer barriers to scientific research, not duplicate existing work. It was formed under a $210 million settlement between the U.S. Department of Justice and Virginia-based Alpha Natural Resources after the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster.
Alpha bought the former Massey Energy Co., which owned Upper Big Branch in southern West Virginia when a massive explosion ripped through its underground corridors in 2010, killing 29 men. It was the worst U.S. coal mining disaster in 40 years.
The non-prosecution agreement spared the company from facing criminal charges, but individuals are still on the hook for their conduct. Two Upper Big Branch officials and a former Massey executive who ran other mines are already behind bars.
The agreement consisted of $35 million in fines for safety violations at Upper Big Branch and other Massey mines, $46.5 million in restitution to the miners' families and $128 million for safety improvements, research and training. Alpha agreed to invest $48 million of that in a mine-safety research trust, and the foundation was formed the following April.