The respiratory (lung) diseases in coal mining are caused by silica dust and coal dust generated from different activities such as blasting, drilling, stockpiling, conveyor belt transfer points and transportation. Respiratory health is the condition of your lungs and their ability to perform their function to the best of their ability. An interesting fact is that your lungs finish development by age 25, and their function remains stable for about 10 years. After that, they begin to gradually decline. By age 65, you’ve typically lost up to a liter of lung capacity compared to when you were younger. This interesting fact makes lung health conversations even more pertinent in the coal mining industry.

Most coal miners start at a very young age and exposure to silica and coal dust deteriorates lung function over time. Lung health hazards further accelerate the natural process of loss in lung function with age. We go back to a bit of biology and ask the most important question. What is the role of our lungs? Our lungs extract oxygen contained in ambient air and then bringing it into the blood. Conversely, lungs also expel carbon dioxide from the blood returning it to the ambient air. Any form of exposure to respirable dust increases the risk of deteriorating the function of the lungs. Furthermore, the risk increases if one has certain pulmonary conditions such as asthma, bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema and mesothelioma. 

In this article, dust lung diseases in coal mining are evaluated by answering the following questions: 

  • Where is silica dust and coal dust generated in coal mining?
  • Why are the stakes so high when it comes to dust lung diseases in coal mining?
  • What is GRTs approach to dust lung diseases in coal mining? 

Where are silica dust and coal dust generated in coal mining? 

Blasting – dust is generated in primary and secondary blasting operations which involve converting solid rock into smaller particle sizes of a desired fragmentation distribution. The process of quarry blasting for example is attained through application of energy in one form or another. Dust from blasting activities contains inhalable and respirable crystalline silica.

Drilling – Every drill operation generates dust. The amount of dust generated in the operations is a cause for great concern. Dust is a health hazard and more importantly dust kills. Exposure to dust from drilling should be separated out from blasting operations, as drilling will see more workers exposed to dust. 

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Conveyor belt transfer points – conveyor systems are designed to move mined coal from pit to stockpile on the mine. This movement in different types of coal generates dust in transit to the discharge point. Conveyors are normally used on the shiploading jetty and it is important to operate the conveyor from the downwind side aligned to face into the wind, which also depends on the nature of the transfer stations feeding the shiploaders.

Stockpiling – Major sources of airborne coal dust in the static storage of coal, are wind exposure, surface layer particle size distribution of the coal, local wind velocity over the stockpile area and the moisture content of the exposed surface. Dislodgement of fines because of wind can transport dust particles long distances away from the stockpile possibly triggering health and environmental hazards for communities within the vicinity of the source.

Transportation – Haul roads at source consist of unbound granular materials with the design of haul mine roads focusing on ability to withstand the traffic load to and from the pit. Owing to the nature of haul mine roads, dust is generated in transit as well as spillages from the transportation of the ore hence it is important to have a mitigatory plan in place prior these activities taking place.

Why are the stakes so high when it comes to coal mine dust lung diseases?

The stakes are so high because exposure to coal dust and silica dust is a matter of life or death. Coal mine workers pneumoconiosis, along with other diseases in the coal mine dust lung diseases group, are progressive diseases. They can take over 10 years of prolonged dust exposure to develop even longer to produce symptoms. Coal dust is generated from coal mining activities which are usually on the surface or underground. Coal is mined and stockpiled until it can be loaded into a truck or train car, then transported to the purchaser. Depending on production rates, it is more of an ongoing situation of adding coal to the stockpile, removing coal for loading and adding more coal. For surface mines, much of the dust problems are not with coal itself, but silica dust from trucks being tracked onto roads and usually affects the nearby communities. There is an inherent relationship between silica dust and coal dust. Most safety standards that limit exposure to coal dust do not cover silica. That omission creates a window for over-exposure to silica on the premise of just dealing with coal dust. The chemistries of the two are different and it is important to acknowledge that modern equipment pulverizes not only coal but the rock around it, thus exposing miners to silica dust. Exposure to coal dust can cause a person to develop coal worker’s pneumoconiosis also known as black lung disease. High exposure to respirable crystalline silica dust causes silicosis, a lung disease that can lead to serious breathing difficulties, lung cancer and loss of life. 


What is GRT’s approach to lung health hazards in coal mining?

Our approach as a company is to attack the source of the hazard and prevent dust becoming airborne. GRT: 12X super-activates drill water so it saturates and captures the fine, hazardous dust drilling can generate, preventing it from becoming an airborne hazard. It is the safest way to alter the profile of water so that it instantly targets the dust that causes black lung and silicosis and prevent it from becoming an airborne hazard. GRT DC Binder for blast pattern dust control prevents dust generation from the hazardous piles of drill cuttings produced by drill & blast activities. These piles contain very fine, respirable dusts that lead to lung disease such as silicosis and coal workers pneumoconiosis. GRT: Haul-Loc a specially formulated, concentrated additive can be utilized for the managing haul roads and any trafficked surface on the mine site, providing dust control, and saving 1000’s of litres of water per day. Its areas of applications include stockpiles and environmental management. 

GRT Activate suppresses dust by wetting the material to an optimal moisture content, preventing fines from being carried off into the air, or to the air above the material, to return airborne fines to the material bed. The suppressed dust returns to the main body of conveyed material and on into the process, without requiring additional material handling equipment.

During underground mining and processing, GRT Activate UG is used to super-activate water causing the water to immediately coat airborne particles, forcing them to drop out of suspension in the air when sprayed to control coal dust in longwall and continuous miner operations. GRT: Ore-Loc, both at the coal mine and on route, is an ideal product for liquid stockpile dust control. It provides a tough, wind resistant coating that prevents surface dust leaving bulk material and will last for several months if required. For hard wearing, long-term applications, GRT: Wet-Loc can provide dust control under the heaviest industrial traffic there is. From tracked machinery, to container lifters, forklifts and trucks, this can offer up to 12 months dust control with a single application. 

Continuing the conversation

The health and well-being of coal mine workers and communities that stay within the vicinity of the mining areas is at the core of the many reasons why respirable and inhalable dust exposure must be dealt with at its source. The incentive to using GRT products is that the material does not have to be handled again in addition to them being environmentally friendly. So, can you now confidently pinpoint the lung health hazards in coal mining? Or perhaps do you want to add more areas of concern? Let us know in your review of the article. 

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