Particle size and mineralogy distributions in respirable dust samples from 25 US underground coal mines

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Detailed characterization of respirable coal mine dust is critical to understanding occupational health outcomes, as well as improving exposure monitoring and dust controls in mines. However, data on characteristics such as particle size and mineralogy are still scarce, and there are virtually no datasets available that allow direct comparisons across many mines. Following up on a previous effort to characterize dust from eight underground mines in the Appalachian region of the United States, the current study expands the dataset to cover a total of 25 mines across the country. A total of 171 respirable dust samples were collected in standard locations of each mine and analyzed by scanning electron microscopy with energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (SEM-EDX). Results demonstrate that significant differences in particle size and mineralogy distributions exist both within and between mines based on sampling location, mine region and/or mining method–and characteristics can be indicative of dust sources. In locations nearby to production or roof bolting, the respirable dust was clearly sourced from the mine strata. Interestingly, in the production location rock-strata sourced dust appeared to be inordinately abundant relative to the actual coal and rock strata heights being mined during sampling. With respect to particle size, diesel particulates and coal dust were generally found to be finer than mineral dust; and mineral dust likely sourced from the rock strata in the mine was finer than that associated with rock dusting products. On average, when considering all particles analyzed between 100 and 10,000 nm, results indicate that about 75% are in the submicron range, however these particles are estimated to account for only about 6% of the mass.

Energy & Fuels, Geosciences, Multidisciplinary, Geology, Black lung, Silicosis, Coal mining, Respirable dust, Diesel exhaust, Rock dusting, Thin-seam mining, SEM, Particle characterization, PNEUMOCONIOSIS, WORKERS, 0403 Geology, 0406 Physical Geography and Environmental Geoscience, 0914 Resources Engineering and Extractive Metallurgy, Energy