Mining Contract: Miniaturized Wearable Personal Dust Exposure Monitor for Respirable and Alveolar Dust in Underground Coal Mines

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Contract # 200-2016-91153
Start Date 9/1/2016
End Date 8/31/2018
Research Concept

Respirable dust exposure in underground coal mines continues to be a major concern for miners and mine operators. Claims to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Black Lung Program are on the rise. Alarmingly, an especially severe form of the disease, progressive massive fibrosis, has recently been identified in a higher-than-expected number of miners. Miners have expressed an interest in more frequent dust sampling but often complain about the presently available equipment’s bulky size and weight. A smaller, more lightweight, and less expensive device for everyday dust exposure monitoring is needed.

Contract Status & Impact

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Respirable dust—particles that are so small they are deposited into the lungs when inhaled—are imperceptible to the naked eye, but the effects can be long-lasting and permanent. Black lung disease causes irreversible breathing problems that affect quality of life and often lead to disability and premature death.

Historic dust sampling equipment only provided an average dust concentration over the entire sampling period, not dynamic data as conditions changed within a shift. The recently implemented continuous personal dust monitor (PDM) provides time-correlated data, but is bulky and heavier than desired. Currently, MSHA regulations require that coal mines check for respirable coal mine dust exposures for certain high-risk occupations over the course of 15 consecutive shifts each calendar quarter. The current version of the PDM offers information to workers while in the mine and has led to improvements in complying with applicable dust standards.

Many miners have said they would like to use a continuous PDM to monitor their dust exposure even when it’s not a designated sampling period. However, the weight, bulkiness, and expense have hindered use of this instrument beyond that required for compliance sampling.

This contract seeks to address this problem by designing and developing a miniaturized personal dust monitor that could be worn on a lapel or clipped to a miner’s clothing. The low-cost device will integrate numerous technologies that will analyze the separated components of the sample and offer the wearer a real-time readout of their dust exposure.

Page last reviewed: January 31, 2023
Page last updated: February 1, 2018