The body has been the most common question posed by reporters in the aftermath of the mining disaster.
The answer is a bit of both, according to Dr. Jennifer L. Miller, a forensic pathologist who specializes in the study of human decomposition and has spent the last 20 years studying the impact of the mine on the bodies of those who died at the site.
Miller, who is not associated with the University of Utah Medical Center but has studied the human remains at the mine, is also one of the researchers on the Utah State University’s Human Tissue Program.
“The mine is not the problem,” Miller told National Geographic.
“It’s the miners, who do a very poor job of protecting the body.
The body itself is not what we think of as an issue.
When you put the body in the furnace it’s almost like the furnace itself is a piece of the body.”
The furnace is a huge metal box filled with molten metal that heats up at a high temperature, and then cools down, Miller explained.
The temperature rises and falls, and it’s this process that causes the body to decompose.
But while the body itself can be decomposing, the rest of the human body is not.
The bones, teeth and ligaments of the person can continue to grow.
That is, until the body is cremated.
“The cremation of the corpse is actually the most important part of decomposition,” Miller said.
This process can take anywhere from two to six hours, depending on the degree of decomposing.
It’s also important to note that it’s not just bones that can decompose, but organs, too.
A body can also lose its vital signs and the ability to speak.
It can have seizures and even death.
It’s not the mine that is the problem, but the miners who live there.
There is a clear link between the two.
Even though the body does not decompose at the rate of a person who is cremating a corpse, Miller said the miner’s role in the body’s decomposition is the primary cause.
After the body has cooled to about minus-10 degrees Celsius (minus-40 degrees Fahrenheit), the miner has the opportunity to remove the body from the furnace, remove the remaining metal from the body, and place it in a container with water to cool.
In addition to the body being incinerated, the heat and cold created by the furnace will also cause the body parts to decomposing rapidly, Miller told The Salt Lake Tribune.
During this process, the copper, iron and other metals will oxidize and become more easily broken down into their constituent components, she said.
This process, she explained, can take from two hours to three hours.
The miner then heats the body up to the point where it can begin to decomposition.
Then, the miner will place the body back in the metal box, where it will cool down again, eventually dropping to minus-20 degrees Celsius.
Once the body begins to cool down, the miners must continue to keep the temperature above minus-30 degrees Celsius to keep it from overheating.
This process continues until the miner is done, Miller stated.
For some miners, it may take more than three hours for the body of a deceased miner to reach zero degrees Celsius, Miller noted.
According to Miller, the reason why bodies don’t decompose as quickly as they should is that the body remains warm for hours.
As a result, there are very few bodies that can be found with their skin intact.
At this point, Miller believes the only person who could decompose quickly is the miner who worked on the mine for decades.
What happens next is unclear, Miller added.
“We don’t know what the miner did after he left the mine.
What was he doing?
What was the reaction he had to what he was doing?
It’s not clear, because no one knows.”
Miller told The Tribune that she is not optimistic about the government’s ability to save bodies from the mine as it is currently constructed.
Her advice is that everyone should stay away from the site and call 911 if they feel they are in danger, she added.
You can learn more about Miller’s work at her website.
More from National Geographic:Why did the Navajo Mine explode?