Australia has many dust suppression solutions available which also has been driven by the rich mining history in Australia but suffice to say recent resurgence of coal mine workers pneumoconiosis popularly known as ‘Black Lung’ has shifted the focus. The shift in focus is amongst the top priorities of the Australian lobby groups which have raised more concern about dust exposure limits and also questioned effectiveness of the current dust suppression solutions in Australia. Reduction of dust exposure limits across Australia has always been the approach to dust suppression however owing to the failure to operate within acceptable dust exposure limits attention has shifted to how effective dust suppression measures are at different mining sites. 

We mention an example of how legislation has played a pivotal role in advocacy for change through the Coal Mining Safety and Health Regulation 2017 in Queensland which was made under the Coal Mining Safety and Health Act 1999. Amongst other changes in Queensland is the improvements in the Guideline for management of respirable dust in Queensland mineral mines and quarries under the Mining and Quarrying Safety and Health Act 1999. It must be stated that under the year dominated by Covid-19, many mines have flown under the radar on the issue of dust control due to the economic need to keep producing. The article seeks to evaluate the problems brought about the ineffectiveness of dust suppression in Australia from a mine worker safety and health approach and wraps up with dust suppression solutions from Global Road Technology.  

Mining drives the economy

Mining in Australia contributes about 8.7% of GDP as of 2019 with export values predicted to reach AUD $300 billion in the 2019 to 2020 financial year. The economics should balance the worker safety and health given lives exposed to dust generated from mining activities tend to come secondary to the financial gains from the mining activities. The Australian Institute of Occupational Hygienists Inc promotes the application of occupational hygiene principles to improve and maintain a safe and healthy working environment for all. In a mining context, occupational hygiene entails the anticipation, recognition, evaluation, communication and control of environmental stressors that arise from the work place which may result in injury, illness, impairment or affect the wellbeing of workers and members of the community. For purposes of our discussion the stressors include both chemical and physical in the form of dust particles generated from mining related activities such as quarrying, blasting, drilling, haul road transport, stockpiling, conveyor belt transport, veneering just to mention but a few. Dust suppression solutions should minimize air quality impacts stemming from mining activities for the health and safety of mine workers, communities within the vicinity of mining activities and the environment at large. 

The science of dust

Are environmental regulations, health and safety concerns or potential profit loss a concern right now?

In order for dust suppression in Australia to be effective we need to understand the particle size of dust and the particle sizes are as follows:

  • >PM10 – Particle sizes of 10 microns in diameter or more also known as visible dust with examples such as limestone and are considered least harmful to the human body owing to the ability of the body’s pulmonary filters being able to get rid of it although some dust particles such as silica are dangerous in the particle size category. 
  • PM10 – Particle sizes less than 10 microns in diameter (invisible to the naked eye) which consists of cement dust, iron dust, textile dust and are most likely to settle in the nose or throat area and can be expelled through coughing and sneezing. The downside to this particle size is that irritation arising from them can cause short and long-term health issues such as asthma subject to length and regularity of exposure. 
  • PM2.5 – Particle sizes 2.5 microns and smaller (invisible to the naked eye) includes many industrial dusts such as lead dust, metallurgic dusts, wood dust, carbon black dust and coal flue gas. They tend to lodge in the bronchi, bronchioles and alveoli resulting in irreversible damage to the lungs which leads to lung cancer, silicosis and black lung disease. 
  • >PM10 + PM10 + PM2.5 when suspended in the air are collectively known as total suspended particles (TSP) 
  • >PM10 + PM10 + PM2.5 when settled out of the air are collectively known as deposited dust

Coal and silica

Queensland and New South Wales reduced their respirable coal and silica dust regulatory limits to 1.5 milligrams per cubic meter and 0.05 milligrams per cubic meter respectively with Western Australia pushing to cap respirable dust exposure to 1.5 milligrams per cubic meter as of October 2021 also having minimized respirable silica dust from 0.1 to 0.05 milligrams per cubic meter. Although this sounds good to the ear it does not necessarily translate to effectiveness of the dust suppression solutions as workplace exposure standard lowering in writing is totally separate from the particle nature behavior of dust generated from mining activities. Following the resurfacing of cases of coal mine workers pneumoconiosis in Queensland and New South Wales it is imperative to utilize effective dust suppression solutions such as GRT Activate and GRT Activate UG. These products make water work through superactivation of water to bind hydrophobic fine dust at a microscopic level with particle size invisible to the naked eye suppressed with the former utilized in material crushing, transfer and handling operations and the latter used in longwall and continuous miner operations. 

Hard rock mining

global-road-technology-dust-suppression-solutions-in-australia

In Western Australia, ineffectiveness of dust suppression in hard rock mining and asbestiform minerals is a cause for concern which is also escalated by the location of bulk of the mining sector in the desert therefore environmental conditions make dust suppression products evaporate making fugitive dust particles buoyant quickly. To tackle this problem GRT offers innovative liquid polymer solutions in GRT Ore-Loc which controls dust through providing an exceptional surface coating and crusting solution on all ore and material surface types. It also creates a surface where the dust that is generated post its crusting can also bind on its surface in the process demobilizing it without compromise on calorific values of coal or quality of the mineral product. Global Road Technology offers specific and target dust suppression solution in Australia with incentive of effectively binding either hydrophobic or hydrophilic dust particles given their particle chemistry and surface activity approach to formulation of dust suppression products that include a complete life cycle approach from cradle to life which includes stewardship to the environment post application as a dust suppression solution. 

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REFERENCES 

Jang, H., and Topal, E. 2020. Transformation of the Australian mining industry and future prospects. Mining Technology: Transactions of the Institutions of Mining and Metallurgy. 

Mining Safe to Work. 2020. Miners act on unacceptable dust exposures. Retrieved 20/12/20

Queensland Resources Council-Air Quality retrieved 20/12/20