Use of the Field-Based Silica Monitoring Technique in a Coal Mine: A Case Study


Exposure to respirable crystalline silica (RCS) can cause serious and irreparable negative health effects, including silicosis and lung cancer. Workers in coal mines have the potential of being exposed to RCS found in dust generated by various mining processes. The silica content of respirable dust in one single mine can vary substantially over both time and location. The current monitoring approach for RCS relies on the use of traditional air sampling followed by laboratory analysis. Results generated using this approach are generally not available for several days to several weeks after sampling, and this delay prevents timely and effective intervention if needed. An alternate analytical method is needed to reduce the time required to quantify the RCS exposure of mine workers. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has developed a new method using commercially available portable infrared spectrometers for measuring RCS at the end of the sampling shift. This paper will describe the application of the new field-based RCS analytical process for coal mines, including the use of the new method with the existing Coal Mine Dust Personal Sampler Unit. In a case study conducted by NIOSH with a coal mine operator in West Virginia, field-based RCS analysis was completed at a mine site to evaluate the new technique. The RCS analysis results obtained by the field-based method in this case study showed sufficiently strong correlation with results obtained by the MSHA standard laboratory analysis method to allow the mine operator to use the field-based method for evaluating process improvements.

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Many thanks to William “Joe” Archer and Elizabeth L. Ashley for their work in support of this project. Thanks to Elaine Rubinstein, Don Tuchman, and Jenise M. Brown for their helpful comments on the manuscript. A special thanks also to the safety team at Blackhawk Mining, LLC, in Charleston, WV, for their enthusiastic contributions to the project: Joey Athey, Michael Balser, Joshua Bell, Ricky Estepp, Derrick McMillion, Andrew Ramey, Mark Rhodes, and Chad Terry.

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Correspondence to Emanuele G. Cauda.

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The findings and conclusions in this report are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official position of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Mention of any company or product does not constitute endorsement by NIOSH, CDC.

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Pampena, J.D., Cauda, E.G., Chubb, L.G. et al. Use of the Field-Based Silica Monitoring Technique in a Coal Mine: A Case Study. Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration 37, 717–726 (2020).

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  • Crystalline silica
  • Respirable dust
  • Coal mining
  • Field-based monitoring
  • FTIR