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Mine shaft safety campaign urges ‘stay out and stay alive’

Gov. Jan Brewer and other state leaders urged Arizonans on April 29 to “stay out and stay alive” when it comes to abandoned mines, which have claimed 10 lives in the past decade.

“We need a safe place, we need safe mines and we need education,” Brewer said. “Let’s keep everyone alive.”

As part of a new educational campaign, mine experts will visit elementary schools to teach students about the dangers and to give out pamphlets and fake tattoos.

The Arizona State Mine Inspector’s Office and the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration plan to install several billboards displaying the campaign’s “stay out and stay alive” slogan.

“If you can get that message to the children, they all take it home to their parents,” said Joe Hart, the state mine inspector.

There are more than 50,000 abandoned mines in Arizona, and about two-thirds of them are considered dangerous, said Laurie Swartzbaugh, deputy director of the mine inspector’s office.

Some mine shafts are hundreds of feet deep, often without barriers or warning signs.

“Let’s just fill them up and close them off, make sure we have nobody else fall in them and lose their life in a situation where we can do something about it,” Hart said.

Some mines have tunnels where lethal concentrations of methane, carbon monoxide and other deadly gases can accumulate. At others, vibrations from touch and footsteps can detonate unused and misfired explosives.

Some accidents occur because people are unaware the mine shafts exist, Hart said. But others happen when people get curious and climb fences or ignore signs.

Hart said the risk is increasing as cities sprawl closer to abandoned mines.

“They used to be out in the boondocks,” he said. “Well, we now we live in the boondocks.”

Since 1999, 10 people have died in recreational accidents on Arizona mine property, according to the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration.

“With the number of abandoned mines we have in Arizona, the safety of our citizens is obviously of high importance to all of us in state leadership,” said House Speaker Kirk Adams.

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