On the occurrence and persistence of coal-mineral microagglomerates in respirable coal mine dust

TR Number
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title

A previous effort to characterize respirable coal mine dust in 16 US mines turned up a curious finding: particle-based analysis using scanning electron microscopy (SEM) tended to overpredict the abundance of dust sourced from rock strata, and underpredict the abundance of coal, when compared to mass-based thermogravimetric analysis (TGA). One possible explanation is the occurrence of coal-mineral microagglomerates (MAGs). Coal particles covered with fine mineral dust could be mostly coal by mass but classified as minerals by SEM due to their surface elemental content. In the current study, a subset of the previously analyzed mine dust samples was re-examined, and SEM images and elemental mapping showed that MAGs are indeed present. Furthermore, dust samples were created and sampled passively in the laboratory, demonstrating that MAG formation can occur due to dust generation processes and the sampling environment, rather than as a mere artifact of respirable dust sampling procedures. Finally, experiments were conducted to evaluate dispersibility of MAGs in liquid suspensions, which might shed some light on their possible fate upon inhalation. Results indicated that sonication in deionized water was effective for MAG dispersion, and a solution that mimics natural lung surfactant also appeared to enhance dispersibility. An understanding of MAG occurrence might be important in terms of exposure assessment.

Metallurgy & Metallurgical Engineering, Mining & Mineral Processing, Respirable coal mine dust, SEM-EDX, Microagglomerates, Occupational health, PARTICLES