What is the health and safety problem?

Exposure to elevated diesel exhaust concentrations has been linked to negative health effects such as eye and nose irritation, headaches, nausea, and asthma. Diesel particulate matter (DPM) has been classified as a possible carcinogen by both the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Diesel engines are a major contributor to elevated concentrations of carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, oxides of nitrogen, and hydrocarbons in underground coal and metal/nonmetal mines.

What is the extent of the problem?

Currently, underground miners can be exposed to more than 100 times the typical environmental concentration of diesel exhaust and more than 10 times what might be found in other workplaces. As mines add more and more pieces of diesel equipment the potential overexposure becomes an even greater risk.

How is the NIOSH Mining program addressing this problem?

Experimental diesel exhaust monitoring and testing platform installed in an underground mine

Experimental diesel exhaust monitoring and testing platform installed in an underground mine.

The NIOSH Mining Program is working to reduce respiratory diseases in miners associated with diesel emissions by reducing miners' exposure to these emissions in underground mines. This goal is addressed by evaluating methods to control emissions from diesel equipment and by developing new monitoring techniques that identify exposure limits in order to reduce potential overexposures.

What are the significant findings?

NIOSH research has resulted in a method to continuously monitor personal exposure to diesel particulate matter in underground mines. This monitoring device has been licensed and is currently being sold commercially. In addition, NIOSH research has evaluated numerous control technologies to reduce emissions from diesel equipment. Evaluated control technologies include diesel particulate filters, alternative fuels (biodiesel), emissions-assisted maintenance programs, and fuel additives.

What are the next steps?

The NIOSH diesel research group will continue both laboratory and field evaluations of novel and emerging technologies to control diesel emissions including modern engines, exhaust aftertreatment technologies, and alternative fuels. In addition, NIOSH researchers will continue research on the properties of aerosols emitted by diesel engines and aftertreatment systems.

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Page last reviewed: September 1, 2020
Page last updated: September 1, 2020