The dramatic rescue of the Chilean miners has cast a spotlight on the industry, an industry with a huge economic impact in Missouri.

Miners are a different type of worker.

“It takes a special breed of human to work in an underground mine, that’s for sure,” says Les Thomas, manager of the State Labor Department Mine and Cave Safety Program. He says the industry has a bigger economic impact that most Missourians realize.

“Missouri mines contribute about $8 billion a year to our economy here in Missouri,” Thomas says. “Not to mention the metals and minerals that they produce that we need to enjoy everyday life, the jobs they produce. And the overall impact is pretty significant and it has always been positive. The Missouri Mining Commission has a slogan and maybe you’ve seen it. It says, ‘If it can’t be grown, it has to mined.’”

Missouri has 318 more or less active mines, 18 underground, according to the Labor Department. Missouri ranks number one in the production of lead and lime, third in zinc, fifth in copper and sixth in silver. Lead is used in car batteries, with some used in computer and television screens to block radiation. Manufacturers use zinc to make water pipes and electrical wire to provide a rust-resistant coating on steel and copper. NASA launch pads are coated with fire clay from Missouri, which also is used to make refractory brick for steel manufacturing. Missouri lime is used in paper and cement production.

Idle at present is the only underground iron mine in the country, the Pea Ridge Iron Ore Mine near Sullivan. Thomas says some Missouri mines sit idle during down economic times, coming to life when the economy rebounds.

The State Labor Department says the mining industry provides jobs to more than 30,000 Missourians.

AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [1:10 MP3]