I graduated from Northern Arizona University in 1974 then worked at the Museum of Northern Arizona as a photographer. The museum received a National Park Service grant to do an ecological survey of the Grand Canyon to learn how the Glen Canyon Dam changed the Colorado River. I matched many of John Wesley Powell's Grand Canyon photographs to show the changes that had taken place in the previous one hundred years. When the survey was completed, I accepted a new employment offer in Grand Junction, Colorado.
I became a field technician for Dr. Geno Saccomanno, M.D., Ph.D., a pathologist working at St. Mary's Hospital on an epidemic of lung cancer in uranium miners. From our base in Grand Junction, we technicians drove a medical trailer from one mine site to the next in four Rocky Mountain states to collect sputum samples, which were later analyzed by hospital cytologists and pathologists.
This health-field experience of working with miners gave me insight into their world. Many of our health tests had to be done underground where the miners were in jeopardy of contracting lung cancer if they did not wear their masks or have the proper ventilation to keep down the dust.
In the Great Basin of Wyoming, I met a mine demolition expert, Dee Haight. His pet pack rat "George" lived in a nest in the mine's explosives magazine. Federal regulations prohibited flammable materials in proximity of the explosives. When George and his nest were evicted, the miners were angry.
Their concern for George - and all pack rats - is reflected in the numerous pack rat tales and legends in the west. One traditional folktale holds that when a pack rat senses trouble, it runs out of the mine; and the miners follow close behind. My story adds to the lore and is a testament to the "let live" attitude miners have for pack rats. George, of course, became Dynamite George - the central character in my account of a fictional mining world.
Pack rat and underground photos in my story are my original images. They were taken when I conducted lung-cancer tests underground during the late 1970's before cell phones, the internet, and computers were in schools and homes. The images do not represent today's mining technology.
Episodes involving the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) are purely fictional. Below is a brief explanation of the federal law authorizing the United States Department of Labor to protect miners in hard rock and coal mines:
The Mine Safety and Health Administration administers provisions of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 and enforces mandatory safety and health standards to eliminate fatal accidents, to reduce the frequency and severity of nonfatal accidents, to minimize health hazards, and to promote improved safety and health conditions in the mining industry. Public Law 91-173
After my lung-cancer research project, I worked for MHSA and Colorado State University. Now retired, I work with digital imaging, photography, and writing.
NOTE: Lung cancer among uranium miners is mentioned in the book. Prior to my work at St. Mary's Hospital, Dr. Geno Saccomanno testified with other pathologists at Hearings of the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, 91st Congress, January 28, 1970, on lung cancer research of uranium miners. His dedication in helping to change mining laws to protect uranium miners resulted in many lives being saved. These laws were included in the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977.
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