November 29, 2007

Sunshine Mine Disaster

It's been more than 35 years, but the scars from one of America's largest mining accidents are still very real. Miners supply us with the raw materials for products we use every day. Yet we rarely hear about them until there's a disaster underground. In the past two years, 26 miners have lost their lives on the job in the United States, and many more have perished outside the U.S., where there are fewer regulations. All the recent disasters in the U.S. have been in coal mines, not metal mines.

But it hasn't always been that way. Idaho has the distinction of being home to one of the largest hard rock mine disasters in our country's history. In May 1972, 91 men lost their lives in the Sunshine mine in north Idaho when a toxic fire deep underground got out of control. The tragedy, coupled with the closure of the Bunker Hill mine, broke the area, not only economically but emotionally. Today, the towns of Kellogg and Wallace near the mines are finally rebounding. But the wounds from the Sunshine disaster are still below the surface.

Marcia Franklin talks about the events of 1972 with: Gregg Olsen, author of The Deep Dark, an account of the disaster; Peggy Delange-White, who lost her father, uncle and brother-in-law in the fire; and Bob Launhardt, the safety engineer for Sunshine mine, and one of the central figures in Mr. Olsen's book.