home
RSS
October 11th, 2010
02:13 PM ET

Ascent could bring health risks to miners

Work to rescue 33 miners from a copper mine 2,200 feet below Chile's Atacama Desert is about to take a dramatic turn.

The first miners could be pulled from the mine as early as Tuesday evening.  Chilean Health Minister Jaime Manalich says they are in good spirits and, overall, in very good health. However, some of the men have shown signs of anxiety and some have had minor cardiac issues, Manalich added.

The miners will be switched over to a liquid diet six hours before they begin their trip to the surface in case they vomit on the way up. The rescue capsule will spin as it rises to the surface, possibly causing dizziness and even panic.

MIR astronaut Jerry Linenger knows something about isolation and confinement. He says his five months in space left him weak and with bone loss. "Down in the mines you have gravity pulling you down. There will be disorientation–turning your head will feel like doing 100 backflips in a row," he said.

Chilean Mining Minister Laurence Golborne is concerned about the miners being re-introduced to sunlight abruptly. Special sunglasses have been sent in an effort to make sure the miners don't suffer damage to their retinas.

The miners have been monitored very closely since they were first trapped on August 5.  The miners were given special shirts and shorts that pull sweat away from the body due to concern about skin infections.  They're also wearing special socks that help prevent athlete's foot and other fungal infections. They've even had a series of vaccinations including a tetanus booster and flu shot to help boost their immune systems.

The men have been exercising for an hour a day.  One of the miners, Yonni Barrios, is a paramedic and has been weighing his fellow miners daily, taking  blood tests and doing daily urine analysis.  That information is downloaded to a Palm Pilot that has been sending the information back to the surface so that medics and personal trainers can check to make sure the miners are well.  They have been tailoring the miners' exercise routines to the day's figures.

Dr. Bailus Walker, an environmental and occupational medicine expert at Howard University Medical Center, says one concern is the effect the barometric pressure will have on their bodies as they're brought up. "You'll see muscular aches and pains in the joints called 'the bends' as a result of the decompression. You could see some respiratory difficulties called 'the chokes.' You'll see increased blood pressure, and some lung damage–but the adequate supply of oxygen should keep lung problems at a minimum."

Update:

The bends, also known as decompression sickness, is a painful condition usually seen in deep sea divers surfacing too quickly. It can also occur when descending from high altitudes. Nitrogen bubbles can form in the blood and tissue when the pressure around someone in the air or water changes rapidly.

James Polk, NASA's deputy chief medical officer, says his agency considered decompression sickness but because the miners were at sea level, found the risk to be very low. "We did the calculations. We found the risk was negligible."

The addition of oxygen in the escape module will also decrease the risk for any nitrogen bubble formation, he said.

Experts say psychological adjustments will be a huge factor. "These men spent 20 days totally cut off in the dark until the first bore hole was made," Linenger said. "So they were in survival mode, which is tough psychologically because you are in a life and death situation."

Once out, the miners will be examined on site and hospitalized for a mandatory two days.  During that time  they'll be monitored and receive physical and mental health care. Doctors will keep an eye out for things like nightmares, panic attacks, anxiety and claustrophobia, among other potential issues.


soundoff (554 Responses)
  1. HWYCHILD

    I'm no expert on any of what those miners may or may not go thru on thier ascent. If i hear correctly, the bends is not just change in atmospheric pressure but can have to do with the type of air/oxygen that they're breathing. If that is true then I could see how there is a potential for that to be an issue. As far as the pressurization, i would imagine that there is some difference. Nowhere near enough to by itself cause any type of bends related issues – again that's provided that they're telling us enough to even make a semi-informed decision. I do think that it's extremely smart of everyone involved to look at anything that could remotely go wrong. Between rotating in a circus type cylinder (reminds me of the Bullet ride at a state fair) and the change in air quality (could go from good to bad or bad to good – I live in Atlanta so the mine is probably better air quality!!) there's no telling what will happen. The comparisson to riding up a ski lift or driving up a mountain is ridiculous. It doesn't take months to do either of these tasks. Their bodies have gotten used to the environment that they are in and no matter how subtle it is going to be a sudden change. Who knows how they will be affected.

    With regards to the sunlight. I would agree that is the more serious of the issues. While they were not in pitch black darkness as they had lamps, they had to conserve. Also, there is a significant differnce in a flashlight or other artificial light source and the sun. That is going to be the brutal change that thier bodies are not going to be prepared for. I know that I've had a couple of completely lazy weekends and slept pretty much all weekend in a room with no windows. When I got up to actually interact with the rest of the world it took a while for my eyes to adjust and was a bit painful for a while. Take a lazy dark weekend and times it by 50 or so (please don't start trying to dog my math skills – i didn't work it out on a calculator. I'm no expert as I said before) and it's gotta be brutal. I guess they could do it at night but I don't wanna be in that second group that has to wait another day... No thanks, I'd rather come up at high noon than wait another day!!!

    October 11, 2010 at 20:45 | Report abuse | Reply
    • CCCool

      You don't have to be any kind of expert to have common sense. Their eyes are a big problem to solve????? Ever hear of sunglasses? The kind that are prescribed after cataract surgery? Gee whiz. Turn your brain battery on.

      October 12, 2010 at 00:33 | Report abuse |
  2. Chris

    It's depressing how much twaddle makes it in to CNN these days. So, I can get the bends from 2200 feet of air pressure? So people taking ski lifts or driving up Rocky Mountain national park should probably spend a few hours on 100% oxygen first then? I fear the return of the dark ages.

    October 11, 2010 at 20:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. claudia

    I am very proud of these 33 miners

    October 11, 2010 at 20:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Bubbazap

    Read the articles before you comment. They have said it will take aprox 2o min to get the capsule to the surface. They are only 2000 feet below the surface so that works out to only 10 feet per min. or only 2 inches per second.(that is extremely slow) The mine I worked in was over 2000 feet in depth and we made the man trip in around 5 min. 20 min is plenty of time to equalize the gas in the blood stream. They are not under a pressureized atmosphere in the mine so there should be no concern.

    As for the light and the eyes yes that will be a concern but remember they have not been in total darkness (as some have stated) for two months. They have had their mining lights and then after the first shaft broke through they have had electrical lighting in the mine. Si it is not like going from total darkness to bright sunlight all at once. (not counting the 20 min it will take to get them from the bottom of the mine to the collar of the shaft.

    As for the thought that the shaft will be sealed when the capsule is raised or lowered that is also wrong. The capsule will not seal the shaft as it traveles up or down. There is not that tight of a fit in the shaft. If there was that tight of a seal they would be concerned about it sedging in the shaft. Sure there is still that concern because there is no rail for the capsule to raise and lower on, and it will rotate due to the wrapping of the wire rope.

    Also the miners are not is an apartment sized area only. Other reports have said that one miner was running 10K a day. There is no way they can run 10K a day in a 500 sq ft area. They do have access to the mine shafts that they have worked in prior to the collapse. They have had areas to move around in and have been exercising an hour a day so it is not like they have been just laying around all the time.

    All I hope is that they get the men out safe.

    October 11, 2010 at 20:47 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Tom

      Dude... check your math. 2000 feet over 20 minutes is 100 feet per minute. That's about the speed of your average hotel elevator.

      October 11, 2010 at 21:54 | Report abuse |
  5. Bubbazap

    Read the articles before you comment. They have said it will take aprox 2o min to get the capsule to the surface. They are only 2000 feet below the surface so that works out to only 10 feet per min. or only 2 inches per second.(that is extremely slow) The mine I worked in was over 2000 feet in depth and we made the man trip in around 5 min. 20 min is plenty of time to equalize the gas in the blood stream. They are not under a pressureized atmosphere in the mine so there should be no concern.

    As for the light and the eyes yes that will be a concern but remember they have not been in total darkness (as some have stated) for two months. They have had their mining lights and then after the first shaft broke through they have had electrical lighting in the mine. Si it is not like going from total darkness to bright sunlight all at once. (not counting the 20 min it will take to get them from the bottom of the mine to the collar of the shaft.

    As for the thought that the shaft will be sealed when the capsule is raised or lowered that is also wrong. The capsule will not seal the shaft as it traveles up or down. There is not that tight of a fit in the shaft. If there was that tight of a seal they would be concerned about it sedging in the shaft. Sure there is still that concern because there is no rail for the capsule to raise and lower on, and it will rotate due to the wrapping of the wire rope.

    Also the miners are not is an apartment sized area only. Other reports have said that one miner was running 10K a day. There is no way they can run 10K a day in a 500 sq ft area. They do have access to the mine shafts that they have worked in prior to the collapse. They have had areas to move around in and have been exercising an hour a day so it is not like they have been just laying around all the time.

    All I hope is that they get the men out safe.

    October 11, 2010 at 20:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. oldguy

    So why did they design a capsule that will spin on its way up??? Does this serve a safety purpose or did no one think of it?

    October 11, 2010 at 20:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Ted

    The issue with the bends is quite simple. The reason for the pressure difference is because in mines, companies pump air into the mine to offset the water table. To do so requires a lot of air pressure. Much more than 15lbs/sq inch. The bends was discovered not from scuba but from people working in mines in the late 1800s. Seriously people, lean your facts before you make comments criticizing organizations that do their fact checking. Try reading Wikipedia at the very least.

    October 11, 2010 at 20:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Scimajor

    The "bends" is highly unlikely and the skyscraper analogy is an excellent counter example if we include an outdoor observation deck which many very tall skyscrapers have. If people suffered the "bends", altitude sickness or decompression sickness from this very small amount of change in air pressure than people would be getting sick by the thousands by simply riding up to the top of the Eiffel tower (896 feet altitude differential from the base to the observation deck). The outdoor deck at the Burj Khalifa skyscraper is even taller at 1482 feet about the base. Yup, whomever is worried about this effect needs a healthy dose of "reality check".

    October 11, 2010 at 20:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. your mom

    Wow!! I really hope the majority of these comments are a joke comparing this to a ski lift or elevator?!?! I know our schools are terrible, but you can always read a book and educate yourself. Being stuck that far underground for this long would mess with anyone.

    October 11, 2010 at 20:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. John Wilkes Booth

    Is CNN going to edit this story or get rid of it? I'd like for someone to actually interview the Howard U. Professor who said that the miners could get the bends. I'd like to hear him explain. THAT would be news. This is just junk science and really unfortunate.

    October 11, 2010 at 20:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. DontWorryAboutIt

    All u white people sound like a bunch of dumbas* NERDS. Go back 2 combing your hair, or popping your pimples. (do something you're good at)

    October 11, 2010 at 20:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. cruces nomad

    These are tough men, and biggest concern would be their ears popping. The other concerns sound silly and just people who don't care getting their 15 minutes. Anybody know the daily wage these guy risked their lives for.

    October 11, 2010 at 20:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. jeb

    QUOTE – 'Once out, the miners will be examined on site and hospitalized for a mandatory two days. During that time they'll be monitored and receive physical and mental health care. Doctors will keep an eye out for things like nightmares, panic attacks, anxiety and claustrophobia, among other potential issues."

    A minimum of 2 days will not be long enough to diagnose any of those issues stated about. These men need to be taken care of for at least a week, or as long as it's needed.

    October 11, 2010 at 21:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. AmadoC

    We know they will do their best from up here. Also, I am sure each has something unique and special to think about while on their way up. Just in case, I am sure they can completely tranquilize one of them or they can hold him off until the crew operating the pulley sister gets better at it.

    October 11, 2010 at 21:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. andrew

    o. griggs.. its time for your meds..... I guess you "experts" haven't heard of Caissons disease and where the name came from?? sheezzz

    October 11, 2010 at 21:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Mayo

    They each have something unique to think about while on their way up, as we know they will be doing their best. Also they can hold on those wish rollercoaster fright for later as the pulley-controllers get a better hang of it.

    October 11, 2010 at 21:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. da funkee 1

    Nice to see the brain trust out commenting on science. Most of you didn't even pass your 3rd grade science project. Let the experts do as they may. They have been dealing with this for 70 days. I'm sure they are taking every precaution for the men's saftey...even if they may err on the side of caution.

    October 11, 2010 at 21:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. kutenai

    you all are insane

    October 11, 2010 at 21:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. ib42

    So many experts here! The heroes are the people who engineered this whole rescue, the miners and their families.
    An epic effort of love, caring and technology. Still hope for the blasted human race.

    October 11, 2010 at 21:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Jamie

    I agree that 2,200 feet is nowhere near enough of an elevation change to trigger the bends. In underwater situations the bends become an issue because each 32' of depth represents another atmosphere of pressure, but above ground it's just asinine to think the miners could be subject to the bends. I'm actually a little embarrassed for CNN here.

    October 11, 2010 at 21:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Jeremy

    How about some motion sickness tablets, that should do the job and maybe some anti-anxiety medication... I am sure some of them are frightened as hell but give them something to take if they are freaking out... or are prone to or could get motion sickness

    October 11, 2010 at 21:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Jamie

    I could see bright sunlight really being a problem for these guys, but the change in atmospheric pressure will be negligible. They've had a hold drilled down to their location since very early in the ordeal so the actual pressure where they are is equal to the outside pressure plus 2,200 additional feet of pressure. They'll just be able to clear their ears by swallowing to compensate for any pressure changes.

    October 11, 2010 at 21:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. karen

    I want to know how and where they are going to the bathroom!! I hope they have sent down some clothespins to put on their noses ! But seriously, how are they handling that horrendous problem???

    October 11, 2010 at 21:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Darrin W

    Wow you guys are really synical! Instead of arguing over wether or not the journalist did some scientific research why not be thankful that the miners are going to finally be out. Remember, there are Americans that are down there helping with the rescue that would really like to come home and be with there familys to! One of them happens to be my best freinds father that designed the rescue and enginered the drill bit used. He was going to fly into St. Louis to visit her on her 30th bday but instead had to fly down to oversee the rescue attempt. I know she will be excited when her dad can finally come home and tell her happy bday but not half as much as the miners familys will be to be able to finally take a sigh of reief that there husbands and fathers are finally safe after several months of hell. Instead of bitching about journalist lets be happy that they will finally be safe and that even if they do get the bends modern medicene will be able to help because thats what the story is really about

    October 11, 2010 at 21:40 | Report abuse | Reply
    • CCCool

      @ darrin w--Your best friend's father IS NOT overseeing the rescue. He's part of a TEAM EFFORT-The Chilean geotech firm IS in charge!!! I'm American-same as you are-and the same as your best friend's father is. He is part of an international team effort!!! He's not "overseeing" anything. That arrogance that so many Americans have is just nauseating.

      October 12, 2010 at 00:46 | Report abuse |
  25. bob

    Good luck to the 33 miners, just hang in there,millions of people around the world are now concering about u.......

    October 11, 2010 at 21:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. atilus

    what makes it different than sky diving? with the presure that is.

    October 11, 2010 at 21:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Doug M

    An airline or other pilot routinely goes from Sea Level to 8000' in about 20-25 minutes then back down in about the same amount of time. They commonly do this several times a day. Guess what? No bends.
    Don't let the facts get in the way of a good story. As with most reporting these days, it's about ratings and viewership. The facts of the matter are often not that interesting. Give these guys an ipod or dvd player to keep them occupied on the way up and a pair of sunglasses. They've survived for over 2 months down there. I think they can handle the ride out.

    October 11, 2010 at 21:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Steve

    I am happy for the miners. Would it be dangerous if they were sedated and brought to the surface?

    October 11, 2010 at 21:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. PARROT

    ......BUT THEY DON'T LOOK MEXICANS !!!

    October 11, 2010 at 22:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Haropo

    CNN meant to say the 'Benz", not the Bends. Oprah is going to give them all cars when they get out of the mine. Way to go CNN, your reporting is top notch.

    October 11, 2010 at 22:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. kevinb671

    Bent from a 2200' ascent to the surface?? Come on. Even IF the pressure differential between the mine and the surface is enough the the miners have lots of nitrogen trapped in solution, I have to believe the simle fact that the holes they've already bored would've equalized that differential.

    I think these guys are home-free.

    October 11, 2010 at 22:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. Real-scientist

    So many theories and so many predictions, guys just hold on, everyone will come out and they all will be OK, hope this lift will work, it is my only concer right now.

    October 11, 2010 at 22:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. Noel COok

    With 33 miners and 33 rides up and back that is 66 rides- there is bound to be issues with anxiety – but what the world is really wanting to see is that miners wife and mistress let him have it! This is the miner who had a mistress on the side and then the wife was there too! Everyone wants to see the family drama unfold!

    October 11, 2010 at 22:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. Ginger

    "That information is downloaded to a Palm Pilot that has been sending the information back to the surface..."

    Not to be a nitpick, but Palm was sued by Pilot Pens and stopped referring to their devices as "Palm Pilots" more than ten years ago.

    October 11, 2010 at 22:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. E=mc2

    Bends? Did they decide to flood the mine and new shaft with water first? And have the miners strap on skuba tanks and have them swim vertically out? Too Cool!

    October 11, 2010 at 22:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. Jill

    Thank God they have experts to do the work and leave the mindless idiots for sharing their opinions.

    October 11, 2010 at 22:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. Tom

    Regarding this stupid notion of the miners getting depressuirization sickness, i.e. the bends... let me ask this: When was the last time a skydiver got the bends from changing altitude?

    I-D-I-O-T-S spells idiots.

    October 11, 2010 at 22:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. freak me out

    After being stuck down there for 70 days and then have to get in that small azz cage for 20 mins in a worm hole, that would freak me out. I wonder if they are offering any valium or something equivalent for the ride up ?

    October 11, 2010 at 22:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. E=mc2

    My guess is that the Chilean company will give them a week off, then send their sorry butts back down there to work again. Afterall, they've used up 2 months of vacation time.

    October 11, 2010 at 22:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. Ari

    Do not worry. It will be all right. God be praised! In South America things occur easier than the rest of the world.

    October 11, 2010 at 22:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. Will E.

    I suspect the rescuers have to raise all possible concerns (however remote) so if something goes horribly wrong during the extraction they can say they made every effort to cover every contingency. The mining company and the government can't afford to appear to have left anything to chance when the whole world is watching.

    It sounds like the ascent will be torturous slow, so even if a little excess nitrogen is present it should be able to expand and be expelled safely. The main problem may be the men simply freaking out from the darkness, confinement, and total lack of control over the situation.

    October 11, 2010 at 22:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. Violeta

    Hi, I'm from Chile, and how nice to inform and worry about the 33 miners in Chile, they were grateful. ! ^ ^

    October 11, 2010 at 22:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. E=mc2

    The most unbelievable part of this CNN story-is that Chile govt is still using Palm Pilots. LOL. Iphone and Blackberry technology has not made it down to South America yet. Apple and Motorola should identify the awesome marketing oppotunity.

    October 11, 2010 at 22:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. Jaguarxj40

    i have been reading other news sites.. anyone know if this is true? or just 'sensalisation' .. http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/3175500/We-hear-falling-rocks-and-its-not-a-good-sign.html

    to be honest.. i am a miner , and if the above is true.. don't forget you have 33 miners all on the edge of 'breaking' point after all this time down there.. will only take 1 little thing like this to mess them all up and make them fight and scramble to be first up.. 😛 .. just bring them up now for f*cks sake!! why wait another 24 hours when it is feasable and possible to bring them up now??!! , and yes they waiting for the concrete to set on the base of the winch.. but i sure iron girders would do the same job.. its not like its going to be lifting tons!! only a man
    worrying for them anyways and i really really hope it all ends well.. 🙁

    October 11, 2010 at 22:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. mb

    This is one of the most ridiculous articles I have ever read. I don't know who this doctor is who is predicting bends, but I wouldn't want him operating on me. I have worked underground off and on for 35 years in mines up to 10,000 ft depth, going up and down every day at rates probably 10 times faster than these guys will go. I am happy to say that neither myself of my fellow workers ever hada case of the bends. We simply walked out of the cage to the shower room and then home.

    October 11, 2010 at 22:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. teamer

    I hope for nothing but the best for the 33 brave souls whose lives are on the line. May your re-entry be uncomplicated and exhilarating! Best wishes from the USA.

    October 11, 2010 at 23:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. rob

    hey guys.. check out this interesting article.. news7dailyreport.info/News7daily-Storyid=43work-at-home-mom-d40fl.html

    October 11, 2010 at 23:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. Angelo

    There has been no comment about the spinning cage. This is due to the physiss of the wire rope and can be countered with a ball or roller bearing assembly at the attachment point; or a more sophisticated device could be used directly above the cage. This method is used in downhole tools in the wireline logging indiustry, and could easily be adpated to the cage for manhauling. I am very curious why the miners will be subjected to a torturous twisting that will surely result otherwise. This could stress a human beyond capacity under the right circumstances. If an anti-twisitng device has been eliminated for technical reasons, will sedation help, or possibly masissive doses of anti-motion sickness medicine be considered?

    October 11, 2010 at 23:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. E=mc2

    Go complain to the CNN Medical "expert" that wrote/posted this dumb bends story: Saundra Young. There is no equivalent of being in air vs being underwater. Was this even reviewed by an editor prior to posting? I expect to see this same story in the next issue of the Onion.

    October 11, 2010 at 23:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. Jaguarxj40

    Bring them up and bring them up NOW! its not like they gonna bloody suddenly die on the way up after all they have been through! , they can and will, get all medical attention they may or may not need on the surface! , seems like certain organisations are now using them as guinnea pigs 😛 and sux 🙁

    October 11, 2010 at 23:57 | Report abuse | Reply
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

Post a comment


 

CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.

Advertisement
About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.