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COAL COMPANIES ARE FINED $6.5 MILLION IN TAMPERINGS

Coal companies that allegedly tampered with dust samples intended to protect miners from black lung disease are being fined a record $6.5 million, Labor Secretary Lynn Martin said.

The Labor Department sent out penalties this week to some 800 coal mines, Martin said. Coal companies in Utah were fined $86,000 for 59 incidents of tampering. In total, the department cited 16 Utah mines.The fines stemmed from a 20-month investigation Martin announced in April. Agents uncovered widespread fraud in the coal industry and about 4,700 alleged instances of tampering with dust samples, the secretary said.

Though the Labor Department issued the coal dust citations in April, the specific assessments were not mailed until this week, the agency said.

Coal industry officials have criticized the government's actions, saying no evidence existed that the air samples had been tampered with. The problems could have come from shipping, handling or outdated equipment, industry officials have said.

Consolidation Coal Co. of Pittsburgh, owned by Du Pont, was slapped with the largest fine - $770,000. Thomas Hoffman, vice president for public relations, said the company would appeal "every one of the citations."

Merely dropping the air samples can make them appear to be tampered with, Hoffman said, and that "only deepens our outrage at the manner in which the secretary decided to deal with us . . . making big headlines, holding a news conference, accusing all of us of `being addicted to cheating.' "

The $6.5 million total - up from the department's original estimate of $5 million in fines - was the largest on record for the agency's Mine Safety and Health Administration.

Du Pont and its Consolidation Coal were followed on the list by Rochester & Pittsburgh Coal Co., which was fined $740,000.

Rounding out the top 10 were: Amax Inc., $225,500; Occidental Petroleum Corp., $187,000; Ziegler Coal Holding Co., $175,000; Walter Industries Inc., $152,000; Pennsylvania Power and Light Co., $141,000; Mapco Inc., $123,000; Ashland Oil Inc., $123,000; British Petroleum Co., $121,000; Sun Company Inc., $101,000; and Bethlehem Steel Corp., $92,000.

Each coal company can appeal the fines.

West Virginia mines were hit the hardest of the 16 states involved, with the total of tampering fines at $1.6 million. Mines in Kentucky were fined $1.4 million; followed by Pennsylvania, $1.2 million; Virginia, $748,000; Tennessee, $498,000; Illinois, $496,000; Alabama, $193,000; Colorado, $113,000; Ohio, $89,000; and Oklahoma, $11,000.

Other states with mines cited were Indiana, Maryland, Montana, New Mexico and Wyoming, which all of had totals of less than $8,000.