Seals are barriers constructed in underground coal mines throughout the United States to isolate abandoned mining panels or groups of panels from the active workings. Historically, mining regulations required seals to withstand a 140-kPa (20-psig) explosion pressure. However, the Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act ("MINER Act") requires the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) to increase this design standard by the end of 2007. This report provides a sound scientific and engineering justification to recommend a three-tiered explosion pressure design criterion for new seals in coal mines in response to the MINER Act. Much of the information contained in this report also applies to existing seals. Engineers from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) examined seal design criteria and practices used in the United States, Europe, and Australia and then classified seals into their various applications. Next, the engineers considered various kinds of explosive atmospheres that can accumulate within sealed areas and used thermodynamic calculations and simple gas explosion models to estimate worst-case explosion pressures that could impact seals. Three design pressure-time curves were developed for the dynamic structural analysis of new seals under the conditions in which those seals may be used: unmonitored seals where there is a possibility of methane-air detonation or high-pressure nonreactive shock waves and their reflections behind the seal; unmonitored seals with little likelihood of detonation or high-pressure nonreactive shock waves and their reflections; and monitored seals where the amount of potentially explosive methane-air is strictly limited and controlled. Figure I is a simple flowchart that illustrates the key decisions in choosing between the monitored or unmonitored seal design approaches and the three design pressure-time curves. For the first condition, an unmonitored seal with an explosion run-up length of more than 50 m (165 ft), the possibility of detonation or high-pressure nonreactive shock waves and their reflections exists. The recommended design pressure-time curve rises to 4.4 MPa (640 psig) and then falls to the 800-kPa (120-psig) constant volume (CV) explosion overpressure. For unmonitored seals with an explosion run-up length of less than 50 m (165 ft), the possibility of detonation or high-pressure nonreactive shock waves and their reflections is less likely. A less severe design pressure-time curve that simply rises to the 800-kPa (120-psig) CV explosion overpressure may be employed. For monitored seals, engineers can use a 345-kPa (50-psig) design pressure-time curve if monitoring can ensure that (1) the maximum length of explosive mix behind a seal does not exceed 5 m (16 ft) and (2) the volume of explosive mix does not exceed 40% of the total sealed volume. Use of this 345-kPa (50-psig) design pressure-time curve requires monitoring and active management of the sealed area atmosphere. These design pressure-time curves apply to new seal design and construction. NIOSH engineers used these design pressure-time curves along with the Wall Analysis Code (WAC) from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and a simple plug analysis to develop design charts for the minimum required seal thickness to withstand each of these explosion pressure-time curves. These design charts consider a range of practical construction materials used in the mining industry and specify a minimum seal thickness given a certain seal height. Results of these analyses show that resistance to even the 4.4-MPa (640-psig) design pressure time curve can be achieved using common seal construction materials at reasonable thickness, demonstrating the feasibility and practical applications of this report. Engineers can also use other structural analysis programs to analyze and design seals by using the appropriate design pressure-time curve for the structural load and a design safety factor of 2 or more. Finally, this report also provides criteria for monitoring the atmosphere behind seals. NIOSH will continue research efforts to improve underground coal mine sealing strategies and to prevent explosions in sealed areas of coal mines. In collaboration with the U.S. National Laboratories, NIOSH will further examine the dynamics of methane and coal dust explosions in mines and the dynamic response of seals to these explosion loads. This upcoming project seeks to better understand the detonation phenomena and simple techniques to protect seals from transient pressures. Additional work will include field measurements of the atmosphere within sealed areas. Successful implementation of the seal design criteria and the associated recommendations in this report for new seal design and construction should significantly reduce the risk of seal failure due to explosions in abandoned areas of underground coal mines.