Univeristy of Idaho Officials Want to Start Mine Safety Instruction

June 4, 2008

The University of Idaho, seeing a resurgence of mining activity in northern Idaho due to soaring metal prices, is seeking federal funding to bring back mining education programs, a school official said.

“The metals mining industry has witnessed historical growth in commodity demand, and consequently in price, over the past few years,” Aicha Elshabini, Dean of the College of Engineering, told the Lewiston Tribune in an e-mail.

The school hopes to build a Mining Safety and Accident Prevention Center in Wallace, she said.

It also wants to start the Center for Industrial Training and Safety, which would be located in the College of Engineering in Moscow, Idaho, and would focus on safety education in construction, agriculture and forestry, as well as mining.

The Wallace center would work onsite at active mines to provide a certificate in mine safety and accident prevention for up to 15 university credits.

An 18-credit minor in mining engineering would also be created at the school. The degree would be offered on the Moscow campus, and be available to students in related fields.

“The mineral industry has been a potentially hazardous workplace, even though some industry-wide safety training is available,” Elshabini said. “The inability to access educational material has contributed to higher fatality and injury rates for Western mining operations.”

With proper funding, Elshabini said, the university could provide training to help make mining safer.

The school closed its College of Mines and Earth Resources in 2002 in a cost-cutting decision made by then President Robert Hoover.

Outgoing President Tim White, who is scheduled to resign June 30, 2008, to head for his new job as chancellor at the University of California-Riverside, recently said he got many calls saying the university should have never closed the mining college.

White said the university can play an important part in encouraging more environmentally friendly mining techniques, a topic of concern considering some of the previous mining history in the region.

In Kellogg, a fire at the Bunker Hill smelter damaged the system that removed toxic lead from the smokestack emissions. Gulf Resources, the Texas company that operated the smelter, kept it running anyway, spewing lead into the air.

When health officials began testing the blood of local children in 1974, they found some of the highest lead poisoning levels in the world. In 1983, the Environmental Protection Agency declared the town and its immediate surroundings a Superfund site.

The stigma hurt, but it triggered tens of millions of dollars for clean up. Hillsides that had been denuded of trees by poisonous chemicals were replanted and now are lush again. The ground and water were cleaned up, and land was made safe for human activity.

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