Trapped Chilean Miners Denied Smokes

To non-smokers, this may not seem to be much of an issue, that the 33 miners trapped a half mile underground — possibly until Christmas – have been denied cigarettes.

When rescuers punched the first narrow shaft to the trapped men, they sent food and water down to the survivors, who had been survivng on a bite of cracker and a sip of water every other day.

Communication with the surface was obviously the miners first wish and that wish was granted. Then Wish #2 – food and water and the possibilities of ventillation (it’s a muggy 85 F. down there) also came through. Miners split on their Wishes #3 and up, so they made a collective Wish List and on that list was wine and cigarettes.

“No go to those evils!” advised Dr. James Michael Duncan, a NASA expert on astronauts in long periods of isolation and deprivation, called in to council the resucers. Actually, Dr. Duncan said:

“Cigarettes were deemed to be bad for their health in such an enclosed space, but they have been given both patches and nicotine gum to help them counter withdrawal symptoms.

“It’s an environment that’s pretty enclosed and we don’t want to contribute to any of the problems within the atmosphere of the mine.”  Read More had some sympathy for the miners, expecially about the alcohol:

According to The Guardian, NASA (yes, our NASA, which knows a lot about men in isolation and deprivation) has been brought in, and is advising against that. It seems cruel! The banning of cigarettes seems understandable (though they have been given nicotine patches and gum) and alcohol is still up for debate (presumably they don’t want drunk miners doing anything stupid).  Read More.

And it does seem easy to see why you wouldn’t want to smoke up an enclosed area where you’re going to be trapped for months. But wait! They’ve put in a ventilation shaft. Smoke rises. Could they make the world’s lowest  “Designated Smoking Area” around the base of the exhaust shaft? Maybe there is no exhaust shaft, Maybe they’re only pumping air in.

What gives me pause is the “prescribing” to the trapped smoker-miners of nicotine patches and gum – the same stuff available topside. Under the circumstances, why not offer chewing tobacco and snuff, along with the patches and gum? Lots of surface folk have taken that route when combustion is problematic. Worried about a new addiction? Maybe perform a successful rescue first, then wean them off tobacco in the sunshine.

On a science blog, “safemba”  took the bull by the horns:

Give them cigarettes. Considering the circumstances and the length of time they will be in this situation it may be one of the last thing they do. Press releases state that they will not be out of the mine until October or November. What is the probability that they will survive?

And “passerby” followed with this answer

The probability of survival is close to 100%, as long as they are able to remain relatively well nourished, hydrated and calm.

While nicotine is a form of self-medication for depression and cognitive/attention difficulties, giving the miners cigarettes will worsen their sunlight-deprived condition and worsen lung damage from dust and risk of lung fungal infection because smoking also seriously impairs lung natural immunity.

Cigarette tars block liver and kidney microsomal Cytochrome P450 enzymes involved in position-25 hydroxylation of vitamin D2, which is produced in the skin by exposure to sunlight. The liver and kidney P450s convert bioloically less active vitamin D2 to D3, which binds to key vitamin D receptors in the brain and lymph tissue in lungs.

Six of the minors are said to be experiencing clear signs of depression, are withdrawn and not eating. Smokers are depressed whether or not they smoke daily, because of a variety of direct damaging cell effects in lungs, and secondary effects in liver, CNS, heart and various secretory organs like pancreas and gallbladder. The miners are in nicotine withdrawal. Patches should be the last resort, per my previous post.

These men have had and will have no break to clear dust from their lungs for the duration of the time they are in the mine. Suspended dust micro-particulates will get worse as the rescue effort drilling progresses. That is one of the reasons I recommended engineering air turnover.

The miners are not stupid. They know how long it takes to drill – they’ve watched it being done in various mining operations, including the newer and larger mine next door. The more experienced miners will have guessed that rescue tunnel drilling will take weeks to months.

The one good piece of news is the mining engineers estimate of deep tunnel temperatures was off by 10 degrees, it’s a more bearable 85 degrees, but still quite humid.  Read More.

We’ll have to see how this turns out. Newser reports that the miners are rebelling!

One month into their ordeal, the 33 trapped Chilean miners are starting to act a wee bit like divas, in recent days refusing to accept a customized board game because it contained spelling errors, returning peaches, and repeatedly requesting wine, cigarettes, and empanadas. They’re also acting a bit like rebels, continuing to drive the mining vehicles through the underground maze though they have been asked not to. “As the men get better, they get more demanding,” says an engineer working on the rescue op.  Read More.

Viva la revolucion!

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