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Mining Project: Smart Ventilation to Control Airborne Pollutants and Physical Stressors in Underground Metal/Nonmetal Mines

Principal Investigator
Start Date10/1/2015

To develop and implement effective interventions to control diesel particulate matter, dust, and other respirable contaminants generated and liberated in the metal/nonmetal mining industry.

Topic Area

Research Summary

Mine operators continue to expand production in underground mines by employing larger diesel-powered equipment in greater numbers and by mining into hotter and more challenging areas further away from fresh air sources. These conditions continually challenge the ability of the ventilation system to provide adequate quantities of fresh air to cool and dilute air in the mine. This has resulted in increased airborne contamination and physical stressors that threaten the health and safety of miners.

Sophisticated ventilation engineering is an important component to providing underground miners with a safe work environment under these increasingly more demanding conditions. Ventilation-on-demand (VOD) technology has been applied on mine-wide scales that can make ventilation changes on a macro-scale, but VOD systems have limited provisions for localized, short-term contaminant control, especially when hazardous conditions are fluctuating over relatively short time periods. Research is therefore required in order to investigate the efficacy of monitoring and control systems that can identify and measure localized health and safety hazards and implement engineering controls or modify localized ventilation in order to mitigate the hazards.

For metal/nonmetal mines in particular, ventilation air often passes through multiple work areas in series and contaminant concentrations can accumulate, reaching levels near or above Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) air quality limits. Additionally, contaminants such as DPM and dust are examples of airborne hazards that can be present in concentrations that are often intermittently high, and localized to one part of the mine. Changes to the overall mine ventilation system do not effectively address these transient overexposures because of the time it takes for changes in air flow to reach the affected area and the possible negative effects that could occur to the air flow in other parts of the mine.

To address these issues, this project has three research aims, as follows:

  1. To evaluate potential monitoring solutions by conducting a technology search to determine the availability of appropriate monitoring technologies, including studies of mining and other industrial data management and control systems.
  2. To identify and select appropriate engineering controls to reduce diesel particulate matter (DPM) and dust in-situ in an underground mine.
  3. To build and test a monitoring and control system (MCS) that targets the reduction of localized transient exposures to a hazard.

The project research aims to demonstrate the efficacy of using real-time monitoring technologies in concert with engineering controls or other air-quality improvement schemes in order to mitigate workers’ potential overexposure to such localized or transient hazards. This three-year project will develop, implement, and evaluate autonomous MCSs that interface with engineering controls to minimize high-level transient DPM and respirable dust exposures in localized regions of underground mines. Successful completion of this research and its associated publications will lead to adoption of newly developed MCSs and interventions for DPM, which will lower worker exposure levels in mines with localized high levels of DPM and dust, reducing the incidence of respirable diseases in the metal/nonmetal mining industry.