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Wildcat mining a world danger, experts say

University Park, Pa. -- The mining accident in Chile that has trapped 33 miners underground has drawn attention to the worldwide problem of wildcat, or illegal, mining, experts say.

The U.S. Geological Survey's Mineral Resources Program says illegal mines and mining practices happen around the world, including in the United States, but they are particularly prevalent in China, India, Indonesia and parts of Africa, LiveScience.com reported Wednesday.

Explosions and tunnel collapses can happen even when regulated companies with vast experience and resources are mining, Phil Smith, director of communications for the United Mine Workers of America, said.

"The chances of somebody eventually getting seriously injured or killed are close to 100 percent," when mining is conducted outside of regulations and with few or no resources to maintain safety, he said.

Wildcat mine operations have no state or federal inspectors to check a mine is safe, and worker training is often unstructured and done on the job, resulting in injuries and disasters, Mark Radomsky, director of the miner training program at Penn State University, said.

Wildcat mining can also refer to mines that have the required authorization to dig but also support illicit mining activity. Mines like these may allow digging to go deeper than allowed or not follow required safety protocols.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI).

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