San Xavier Underground Mining Laboratory

The University of Arizona owns and operates the only underground mining laboratory in the United States with a working vertical shaft – where students run the mining operation and 2,500 industry professionals receive health and safety training each year.

Located 23 miles south of Tucson, the Henry G. “Hank” Grundstedt San Xavier Mining Laboratory has one of the nation’s most sophisticated research hoisting systems, a decline for access of rubber-tired vehicles and legacy rail haulage access. The mine features four levels of underground workings to a depth of 250 feet. This unique site has attracted projects critical to national defense, geosciences, mine safety and miner rescue.

The San Xavier lab is structured like an operating mine, where all supervisory positions are held by undergraduate students – including mine manager, safety manager and shift foremen. Mining and geology students work 8-hour shifts every week, gaining hands-on hard-hat experience.

They participate in mine development, unit operations and maintenance. They’re also exposed to the latest technical advances in mining and excavation. The lab also is used for mine rescue and recovery exercises.

The San Xavier mine operated from 1880 until 1952, producing silver, lead, zinc and copper. The UA College of Mines began operating the Number 6 Shaft in 1958 and has owned it since 1975. Today the land holding includes three more adjacent mining claims for a total of nearly 90 acres.

This underground mining lab has long been a training and research resource for federal and state agencies, as well as organizations devoted to underground research, tunnel safety and mine rescue. More than 15 external clients currently use this site for research. This also is the training site for the Laborers’ International Union of North America, Bureau of Land Management, Arizona State Mine Inspectors Office, fire departments, search and rescue units and mine rescue teams.

The UA Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health uses the mine for exposure assessment classes to take baseline measurements for noise, dust, radon daughter concentrations and diesel particulate matter. Sesame Street and the History Channel have filmed in the mine.

This underground lab is central to the university’s multidisciplinary Mine Health and Safety program. Thanks to decades of mining industry partnerships, the university today is considered a center of excellence in mine health and safety. These partnerships underscore the industry’s commitment to creating a culture of mine health and safety.

With industry support, the Lowell Institute for Mineral Resources works to improve the health and safety training of thousands of miners – with new language training modules, gaming simulations for avoiding mine accidents, translational research and training for occupational health, environmental exposure assessments and mine rescue practice.

For more information, contact Dr. Mary Poulton at mpoulton@email.arizona.edu.