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Mining Program Area: Respirable Dust Assessment and Control


The ultimate goal of this research program is to eliminate coal workers’ pneumoconiosis and silicosis from the mining industry. This can be achieved through the development and implementation of control technologies that effectively limit mine worker exposure to airborne respirable dust. In addition, the development of improved real-time or near real-time aerosol monitoring equipment can help reduce worker exposures to hazardous airborne particulate by allowing for more immediate corrective actions in response to overexposures.

Compliance dust sampling data captured by the Mine Safety and health Administration (MSHA) is routinely analyzed to identify the mining occupations that have the highest rates of overexposure to airborne respirable dust. Once identified, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s (NIOSH) Office of Mine Safety and Health Research (OMSHR) conducts research to quantify the sources of dust exposures for these occupations and then works to identify or develop control technologies that reduce exposures. Also, OMSHR is conducting research to develop instrumentation for mine workers and/or MSHA to more quickly analyze samples for silica content to reduce silica dust exposures in coal and metal/nonmetal mining operations.

Inhalation of respirable coal or silica dust in mining operations can lead to coal workers' pneumoconiosis (CWP) or silicosis, respectively. These are chronic, debilitating lung diseases that can be fatal in their most severe forms. Health surveillance studies of underground and surface mine workers show that these lung diseases continue to be a significant health threat in the mining industry. Within NIOSH’s Division of Respiratory Disease Studies, the Coal Workers' X-ray Surveillance Program gives underground coal workers the opportunity to be examined periodically for the presence of CWP. Data from 2005–2009 x-rays show that 7% of examined mine workers with 25 or more years of mining experience were diagnosed with CWP, Category 1+. During 1998–2007, CWP caused or contributed to the deaths of 8,111 U.S. mine workers. During the same period, the Federal Black Lung Program paid over $8 billion in benefits to coal mine workers and/or surviving widows and dependents. During 2010 and 2011, NIOSH’s Division of Respiratory Disease Studies completed a special program to examine surface mine workers for evidence of CWP. Results showed that 2% of examined surface mine workers were diagnosed with CWP.


Dust control research for the mining industry was initially conducted by researchers in the U.S. Bureau of Mines until this responsibility and expertise was transferred into NIOSH OMSHR. The Bureau research identified many dust control technologies that have been adopted by industry as the foundation of dust control efforts. OMSHR dust control research continues to build upon these dust control capabilities for mining operations. Longstanding cooperation with mining companies, equipment manufacturers, trade associations, labor organizations, and other government agencies has facilitated the development and implementation of control technologies. OMSHR also has unique, full-scale dust galleries that allow for extensive scientific testing of control technologies under controlled conditions, which would be impossible in actual mining operations. After identifying control technologies with promise and optimizing their performance through laboratory testing, these controls can be tested in active mining operations to demonstrate effectiveness in real-world operating conditions.

While reviewing MSHA dust sampling data, it became apparent that respirable dust overexposures are occurring for a number of occupations throughout the various mining commodities. Consequently, OMSHR in-house research projects are addressing dust control issues found in underground coal mining, coal and nonmetal surface mining, and mineral processing operations. In addition to using in-house expertise, OMSHR has ongoing contracts with mining equipment manufacturers and instrumentation companies to take advantage of their experience and capabilities.

The program has made several significant accomplishments and is continuing research to meet its goals; some milestones and highlights are listed below:

  • Development of a prototype self-propelled, free-standing respirable dust scrubber for use on continuous miner sections. This unit is designed to remove respirable dust from ventilating air downwind of the continuous miner to reduce the exposure for workers positioned in the return air of the continuous miner. The scrubber is being developed under a contract with a mining equipment manufacturer and should be delivered to OMSHR in the spring of 2013.
  • Development of a “Helmet CAM” technique for identifying sources of high dust exposures for mobile workers. The technique incorporates a video camera attached to the worker’s hard hat in conjunction with a real-time dust sampler. OMSHR is developing software that allows for direct comparison of the video and dust files to identify high dust sources. This information can then be used to focus development on the most problematic dust sources.
  • Quantifying dust levels generated in 20-foot deep cuts with and without flooded-bed scrubbers operating. This information will provide MSHA and mine operators with data that can help them select mining techniques that minimize the respirable dust exposure for workers on continuous mining faces.
  • Conducting tests in the full-scale continuous miner gallery to optimize the dust and gas control obtained with flooded-bed scrubbers when a portion of the scrubber exhaust is redirected to the mining face. The goal is to improve airflow patterns at the face and prevent the accumulation of gas, while also improving the dust capture of the scrubber.
  • Developing a spray manifold for installation on the tailgate end of a longwall shearer that will provide improved dust control for the tailgate shearer operator and jack setter. The goal is to optimize operating parameters in full-scale longwall gallery testing prior to evaluating the spray manifold on an operating longwall face.
  • Using past research conducted on filtration/pressurization systems for enclosed cabs on mobile mining equipment to identify guidelines for installing similar systems on operator booths/compartments in processing operations. We will demonstrate the effectiveness of these systems through evaluations at field sites.
  • Developing a portable, mine-worthy silica analysis instrument that can be used at the end of a sampling shift to analyze for the quartz content on filters taken from respirable dust samplers. If overexposures are detected, changes in dust control technologies and/or operating practices can be implemented on the next shift to prevent further overexposures.

Projects & Contracts

TitlePIsStart DateDescription
Monitoring and Control of Airborne Toxic Substances in MiningEmanuele Cauda10/1/2013A project to advance the assessment and monitoring of exposure respirable aerosols by developing timely, accurate, and site-specific monitoring technologies and strategies to apply to problems associated with exposure to these mining aerosols.
TitlePIsStart DateDescription
Enhanced Utilization of Personal Dust Monitor FeedbackKelly McNelis10/1/2011A project to test an intervention to help miners use Personal Dust Monitor feedback more effectively to reduce their exposure to respirable coal mine dust.
Evaluation of LIDAR as a Novel Remote Dust Sensing TechnologyGerald J. Joy10/1/2011A project to evaluate the feasibility of using Light Detection And Ranging (LIDAR), a remote sensing technology based on laser reflection, as a dust monitoring tool in the mining industry.
Improved Dust Control Methods for Longwall MiningJames P. Rider10/1/2010The purpose of this research program is to develop control technologies that will reduce the most common sources of respirable dust on the longwall face, which will in turn protect the health of mine workers on the longwall face.
Particulate Measurement and Characterization in MiningEmanuele G.. Cauda10/1/2009A project to develop innovative instruments and methodologies for real-time measurement of respirable mineral aerosols and diesel particulate matter aerosols.
Reducing Silica and Other Respirable Dust Exposures in the Metal/Nonmetal Mining IndustryAndrew B. Cecala10/1/2010A project to develop and evaluate control technology to reduce metal/nonmetal mine worker’s exposure to silica and other respirable dust and contaminants in metal/nonmetal mines and mills, including surface and underground operations.
Respirable Dust Control for Surface MinesWilliam R. Reed10/1/2008A project to reduce respirable silica dust exposure in surface mines through improved understanding of dust generation and transport, improvement of current control technologies, and development of new control technologies.
Respirable Dust Control Methods on Continuous Mining OperationsJohn A. Organiscak10/1/2010This project will develop and evaluate control technologies to reduce respirable dust exposures for operators of roof bolters and continuous mining machines.
TitleContractorContract/IAG #Start DateDescription
Coal Mine Dust Mitigation Through Novel Scrubber Development and Numerical ModelingUniversity of Kentucky200-2014-599229/1/2014A capacity-building contract focused on coal dust mitigation utilizing a novel scrubber and numerical modeling.
Continuous Float Dust MonitorAKITA Innovations, LLC200-2013-572329/23/2013A contract to design, fabricate, and test a continuous float dust monitor (CFDM) in both a laboratory setting and in a test coal mine environment.
Development of Dust Control Units for Underground Coal MinesJ.H. Fletcher & Co.200-2010-361649/1/2010A contract to design, construct, and test two new dust collection components for continuous mining operations in underground coal mines.
LiDAR Technology Adaptation to Underground Coal Mines for Float Coal Dust and Rock Dust Mapping ApplicationsElectricore, Inc.200-2013-569479/16/2013A contract to evaluate LiDAR sensing technology to estimate dispersion distances of float coal dust and assess adequacies of rock dust coverage over large areas.
TitleContractorContract/IAG #Start DateDescription
Metering and Distribution Improvements to Increase the Effectiveness and Efficiency of Rock DustersROHMAC Inc.200-2012-536269/21/2012A contract to develop and implement a prototype rock duster that will use sensing technology to determine the amount of coal dust in the mine atmosphere and distribute an appropriate amount of rock dust to effectively inert the coal dust present. The U.S. Government's Official Web PortalDepartment of Health and Human Services
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