Application of a TGA Method to Estimate Coal, Carbonate, and Non-carbonate Mineral Fractions as a Proxy for the Major Sources of Respirable Coal Mine Dust

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Virginia Tech


Inhalation of respirable dust in coal mines is a serious occupational health hazard which can lead to the development of chronic and irreversible lung diseases, such as Coal Worker's Pneumoconiosis (CWP) and Progressive Massive fibrosis (PMF). After the passage of the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act (CMHSA) in the late 1960's the prevalence of CWP among US coal miners decreased. However, since the late 1990's a resurgence of lung diseases has been reported, particularly in central Appalachia. On the other hand, dust monitoring data suggest that concentrations of respirable coal mine dust (RCMD) and crystalline silica have been on a downward trend. This contradiction has prompted keen interest in detailed characterization of RCMD to shed light on dust constituents-and their sources. Such information might help miners understand where and under what conditions specific sources contribute to RCMD, and how dust controls and monitoring could be enhanced to mitigate the exposure to respirable hazards.

Respirable dust particles generated in coal mines are generally associated with three primary sources: the coal strata that is mined and generates mostly coal particles that could contribute for lung diseases, the rock strata that is cut along with the coal and generates most of the respirable silica and silicates, and the rock dust products that are the main source of carbonates which could produce respiratory irritations.

Thermogravimetric Analysis (TGA) is one of many analytical tools that might be used for dust characterization. Its primary benefit is that it can be used to apportion the total sample mass into three mass fractions (i.e., coal, carbonates, non-carbonates) which should be roughly associated with the primary dust sources (i.e., coal strata, rock dust products, rock strata) in many coal mines.

This thesis consists of two main chapters: Chapter 1, outlines the research motivation, recaps the efforts to establish a standard TGA method for RCMD, and shows results of the validation experiments that were performed in the current work to enable application of the TGA method to a large set of RCMD and laboratory-generated dust samples. In Chapter 2, 46 lab-generated samples from primary dust source materials collected in 15 coal mines, and 129 respirable dust samples from 23 US coal mines are analyzed using the TGA method validated in Chapter 1. Results for both sets of samples are presented and the mine samples are interpreted based on sampling location, mining method and region. Additionally, Chapter 3 summarizes recommendations for future work.



Thermogravimetric analysis (TGA), Dust sources, Respirable Coal Mine Dust (RCMD), Lung disease