Applications of Thermal and Laser-Based Methods for Monitoring Airborne Particulates in Coal Mines

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Virginia Tech


The purpose of this thesis is to examine applications of thermal and laser-based methods to monitor airborne particulates in underground coal mines. Specifically, coal and mixed mineral mine dust, as well as, diesel particulate matter (DPM). These particulates have historically, and continue to have, significant health impacts on underground miners. Chapters 1 and 2 of this thesis concentrate on using a novel method of thermogravimetric analysis (TGA) to characterize respirable coal and mixed mineral mine dust and presents the results of this method being applied to samples collected in Appalachia coal mines. Appalachia has been a geographic "hotspot" for the rise in occupational lung disease amongst underground coal miners, which began in 1990's after decades of steady decline. This has led researchers to propose there could be something unique about the respirable dust composition in Appalachia coal mines, which resulted in the surge of lung disease cases; however, the knowledge base regarding the actual composition of respirable coal mine dust is limited. The results of this thesis show that most of the mass fraction of respirable Appalachia coal mine dust is not coal, but rather carbonates and non-carbonate minerals (i.e. silica and silicates). These findings are significant as many researchers now suspect silica and silicates to be the true culprit in the occupational lung disease of coal miners.

DPM presents an additional occupational health hazard to underground coal miners where diesel equipment is used and is difficult to monitor due to its complex nature. In underground metal/non-metal mines, airborne DPM is regulated and monitored using carbon surrogates. However, due to the potential interference from coal-sourced carbon, DPM in coal mines is monitored only by taking samples at the tailpipe of each piece of equipment. This thesis aims to investigate the potential for a laser-based instrument, the FLIR Airtec, to be used in underground coal mines. In particular, what effect the coal dust will have on the instrument, as it measures DPM by way of elemental carbon (EC). The results of this study show that while the Airtec will not over-estimate coal-sourced EC, there could be some sampling artifacts associated with its operation in coal mines, which may inhibit its effectiveness.



Thermogravimetric Analysis (TGA), Silica, Respirable Dust, Occupational Lung Disease, CWP, PMF, DPM, Real-time EC Monitor