An Improved Thermogravimetric Analysis Method for Respirable Coal Mine Dust and Comparison to Results by SEM-EDX

TR Number



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


Virginia Tech


It has long been known that chronic exposures to high concentrations of respirable coal mine dust can lead to the development of lung diseases such as Coal Worker's Pneumoconiosis, commonly referred to as "black lung", and silicosis. Since the mid-1990s, an alarming resurgence of diseases has been documented in central Appalachia, where underground mining often necessitates significant extraction of rock strata along with the thin seams of coal. These circumstances have prompted concern over if or how changing dust composition might be a factor in contemporary disease prevalence.

Until now, the total mass concentration and quartz mass fraction of respirable dust have been regulated and monitored in US coal mines. Unfortunately, however, these two metrics alone do not paint a full picture of dust composition. Earlier work in the author's research group established a preliminary thermogravimetric analysis (TGA) method for coal mine dust. The method is intended to allow estimation of three key mass fractions of the dust from separate sources: coal from the coal strata being mined; non-carbonate minerals from the rock strata being mined or drilled; and carbonates that are primarly sourced from application of rock dust products to the mine floor or ribs. However, accuracy of the preliminary method was substantially limited by poor dust recovery from the fibrous filter media used for sample collection.

This thesis includes two studies: The first study aims to establish an improved TGA method. It uses smooth polycarbonate (PC) filters for dust sampling and a modified thermal ramping routine. The method is verified using laboratory-generated respirable dust samples. In the second study, the improved TGA method is used to analyze 75 respirable mine dust samples, collected in 15 US mines. Replicate samples are also analyzed by scanning electron microscopy using energy dispersive X-ray (SEM-EDX). TGA and SEM-EDX results are compared to gain insights regarding the analytical methods and general trends in dust composition within and between mines.



Thermogravimetric Analysis (TGA), Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM), Respirable Dust, Coal Worker's Pneumoconiosis (CWP)