Mining dust is a type of fine, dry dust that is generated during the mining, processing, and transportation of minerals and other materials. This dust contains a variety of chemicals and minerals, such as silicates, carbonates, phosphates, and others, depending on the type of mineral being mined. Mining operations, such as the blasting, hauling, loading, and extraction of minerals, generate different types of environmental impacts, which must be mitigated.
Listed below are the main seven reasons why dust control is important in a mine.
1. Avoid loss of life expectancy for miners and surrounding communities:
The life expectancy of mine workers is 20 years shorter than the rest of the community, especially underground miners (Z.Q. Sun, Y.R. Zhang, T. He, C.G. Yang, 1997). The main factor explaining this difference in life expectancy is the long-term impact of poor air quality on miners. Poor air quality has a negative impact on life expectancy and the quality of nearby communities. Major mining companies that state safety as their number one priority must address the health and safety of their workers in the long term as well, avoiding the loss of life expectancy associated with poor air quality, otherwise, they can be found legally responsible for the long-term health of their workers and will put their social license at risk.
Some of the main ways that prolonged exposure to mining dust affects the health of workers include:
- Occupational and Respiratory diseases, such as bronchitis, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The fine dust easily enters the lungs and causes inflammation and damage to the airways and alveoli. Dust also causes hair and skin problems such as dry skin and occupational dermatitis. Depending on dust composition, other metabolic and mutational diseases might come in play.
- Vision and eye injuries. Mining dust contains particles of minerals, metals, and other chemical components that irritate the eyes and cause vision problems. In addition, mining dust gets into the eyes and causes injuries such as eye abrasions or corneal ulcers.
- Work Accidents: Mining dust also reduces visibility and increases the risk of accidents at work, especially in areas where there is a lot of dust in the air. This includes falls, collisions, and other types of accidents.
To protect the health and safety of mining workers and nearby communities, it is important to take steps to control mining dust. The first step is to control the dust at the source, avoiding its generation. The second layer of protection, encapsulating or vacuuming dust emissions near the emission source. The third protection layer includes wearing respiratory protective equipment, cleaning work areas regularly, and using effective ventilation systems to keep the air clean. In addition, mining workers should be trained to recognize the signs of dust exposure and take steps to avoid overexposure.
2. Increase your mine operation efficiency and profitability:
Dust interferes with the efficiency of the mining operation by clogging equipment and reducing visibility. The main sources of dust in a mine are haul roads, front-loading areas, mine Crushers, blasting, and tailings dams. Dust can interfere with the efficiency of a mining operation in several ways. Some of these include:
- Uncontrolled haul roads reduce haul trucks’ circulation speed, deteriorate road bearing capacity, increase fuel consumption, increment the number of skids and road accidents, and have a higher quantity of potholes and ruts. Effective haul road dust control can increase Haul Road Productivity by 20-40% and reduce fuel consumption by 15-30% while decreasing road maintenance needs by 50% and water consumption by 90-95% (Toledo, Samuel, 2021). Furthermore, proper dust control and soil stabilization are cornerstones for the implementation of automated haul trucks in a mine site for visibility improvement and skid prevention.
- High dust conditions during loading operations reduce the speed and frequency at which the shovel operator can load the haul trucks while increasing the risk of accidents. These conditions are intensified during air inversion conditions. Proper dust control measures can prevent these operational conditions.
- Mine crushers with extremely high dust emissions experiment with higher technical failure incidents, which require to halt of the process to repair the failure which could be at a conveyor belt, chute, screener, or transfer point. High dust concentrations increase the risk of conveyors belts autoignition and the conveyor belt change frequency.
- Increase heavy equipment maintenance costs: Dust clogs the air filters of mining equipment such as trucks, excavators, and other vehicles. This leads to decreased equipment efficiency because the air cannot circulate properly, and the engine works harder to maintain the same performance, which translates into higher fuel consumption and maintenance requirements.
- Blasting is an important and remarkable source of dust emissions, which is important to manage. Controlled dust emissions during blasting reflect a good calculation and use of steaming, plugs, and dust suppression measures, which translates into better rock fragmentation, expanded hole patterns, reduced drilling and explosive costs by up to 30%, and improved safety and noise reduction. As well, the controlled blasting process has fewer time window restrictions compared with the uncontrolled dust blasting process, which is more offensive to the surrounding community and environment.
3. Avoid Air, water, and soil environmental pollution:
Mining dust affects air, water, and soil quality as well as local flora and fauna. Airborne dust pollutes the air and eventually precipitates over water bodies and soil, which causes direct damage to local flora and fauna, such as the destruction of natural habitats and the fragmentation of forest areas. This leads to a loss of biodiversity and a decrease in the population of plants and animals in the area. In addition, mining alters the ecological balance of a region, which has long-term negative effects on the health of the ecosystem negatively impacting the environment. Native ecosystems and aboriginal human communities are typically affected by multiple stressors, including climate change and pollution, for example. (Haddaway et al, 2019)
Among the impacts of particulate emissions on the environment we can also mention:
- Water contamination: Airborne dust precipitates over water bodies such as rivers and lakes. Mining dust contains toxic minerals and other chemicals used in the mining process that contaminate the air and water. This leads to a decrease in water quality and the loss of drinking water sources for the local population, flora, and fauna.
- Soil contamination: Mining dust also contaminates the soil, which affects the quality of plants grown in the area. In addition, mining dust causes soil erosion, which leads to a loss of fertility and a decrease in the soil’s ability to support plant life.
- Dust accumulation on plant leaves, reduce their capacity to photosynthesize the sunlight. This impact negatively farmers’ crops and leaves and fruits available to feed wild animals, as well as farm animals and humans.
- Glaciers melting: Light-absorbing impurities (LAIs) found in black coal and mineral dust precipitated in snow and glaciers, increase the melting process, and are estimated to contribute to ~16% of the total melt of glaciers in Central Asia (Yang, Zulan et al, 2020).
4. Preserve Cultural heritage:
Mines can be located in areas with cultural or historical value. Dust control helps to protect these areas and preserve cultural heritage for future generations, as dust damages or destroys ancient objects and buildings.
Among the main impacts we can mention:
- Abrasion: The abrasive particles of dust scratch or scuff delicate surfaces such as wood, metal, or glass. This damages the appearance of objects or buildings and diminishes their value.
- Chemical reactions: Dust contains chemical particles that react with the materials of old objects or buildings, causing damage. For example, dust contains acids that corrode metals or organic acids that damage wood or paper.
- Accumulation of moisture: Dust clogs the pores of surfaces, preventing them from breathing and accumulating moisture. This leads to problems such as mold or mildew, which damage materials or even destroy objects or buildings.
- Deterioration of appearance: Dust covers objects or buildings, obscuring their characteristics and diminishing their appearance. This negatively affects the public’s appreciation of cultural heritage.
5. Comply with regulations and improvement of the company’s image:
Many regions have strict regulations on dust control in mines. Compliance with these regulations is important to avoid fines and other penalties.
The negative impacts mentioned in the previous sections are strongly enforced and controlled by governmental regulatory agencies, especially in well-developed and regulated mine districts. Non-compliance with the laws imposed by these agencies, besides generating fines, has a negative financial impact through the loss of licenses and permits preventing your ability to continue mining and producing mineral products.
Non-compliance with mining regulations also damages the company’s reputation among consumers, investors, governments, and local communities. This negatively affects the company’s image and its ability to attract and keep customers and investments.
Mining companies also face legal action from enforcement agencies, governments, or other stakeholders if they do not comply with regulations. This leads to significant legal costs and loss of time and resources.
Effective dust control is one of the key measures to improve the company’s image with the community and regulators, as the dust is easy to spot and has a negative impact on the image as it is seen as a sign of a lack of care for the environment and the health of workers and the local community.
6. Retain your social license to operate:
The lack of a social license to operate a mine increases the risk of production stoppage and potential closure of the mine. A social license is a set of authorizations, permits, and consents granted by the various social actors (communities, governments, and civil society organizations, among others) involved in the process of planning, developing, and operating a mine. The lack of a social license leads to social conflicts, demonstrations, and protests, which interrupt or halt production and even lead to mine closure. In addition, the lack of a social license creates a negative reputation for the mining company, which affects its business and its access to financing for current mine operations and future operations. Therefore, it is important that mining companies adopt responsible dust control practices and promote participation and dialogue with communities and other social actors involved, to obtain and maintain the necessary social license for their operations.
7. Improve your employee’s productivity and company capacity to attract and retain talent:
Finally, but not least, to attract, grow, and retain smart, productive employees, your work environment needs to be safe, clean, and attractive. This includes the air quality. Poor air quality is an important component of employees’ perception of the workplace. Mines with extremely high dust concentrations face challenges in attracting and retaining talent as workers and their families are concerned about their health. Among the main challenges with dust pollution and employees we can find:
- Exposure to air pollution, even at low concentrations, can have meaningful impacts on physical and cognitive performance. This reduces productivity among employees in a range of sectors and affects decision-making. (WEForum, July 2022)
- Exposure to poor air results in employees taking more frequent leaves due to ill health or continuing to work at a reduced speed and efficiency.
- Airborne pollution increases the transmission of respiratory viruses and bacteria such as COVID-19. In air pollution environments, viruses and bacteria use PM5 and PM10 to travel through the air and lead to infection. (Wang, Chia et al 2021)
ABCDust – smart dust control and soil stabilization
ABCDust has developed a wide range of solutions to monitor air quality and suppress airborne pollution in the mining industry. Our comprehensive solutions cover the main mining activities such as blasting, loading, hauling, crushing, pilings, and tailings. Our solutions combine a mix of advanced environmentally friendly chemistry; air and water atomization systems; air quality monitoring equipment; forecasting algorithms; management platforms and technical support to continuously optimize our solutions.
Among the solutions, we can highlight the following innovative products:
- DMS®-DS additives solutions for high-performance dust suppression and soil stabilization in haul roads, crushers, and tailings.
- DMS-FOG® dry fog and fine mist system to better capture airborne pollution in mine crushers and the unloading process.
- Georeferenced road dust monitoring systems and stationery extremely high concentrations dust monitors.
- Mine blasting and front-loading dust control systems.
As a result, a completely new dust suppression technology was created. Our products are delivered precisely when and where they are needed, resulting in increased productivity, water saving, C02 reductions, increased sustainability, and safety.
For more information, please contact us to help you out to eliminate 95-99% of your dust challenges!!