A Preliminary Investigation of Respirable Silica Particle Surface in Central Appalachian Coal Mine Dust


Leah Frost, Virginia Tech; Emily Sarver, Virginia Tech; Cigdem Keles, Virginia Tech

Since the late 1990s, increased prevalence of severe lung disease among US coal miners has been observed, particularly in central Appalachia where thin-seam mining is prevalent. While respirable silica exposures have been implicated in many cases, the available dust monitoring data from mines shows no explanatory trends. One possible factor could be differences in the relative toxicity of silica particles based on their surface condition. Previous research has indicated that particles with occluded surfaces (e.g., by a thin layer of clay) may be less toxic than those with non-occluded surfaces. However, this dust characteristic has not been investigated before now in central Appalachian mines. In the present study, 18 respirable dust samples from seven central Appalachian mines and two northern Appalachian mines were analyzed to assess the relative occurrence of surface-occluded silica. Results showed that the dust from central Appalachian mines actually had higher fractions of occluded silica, which may be due to extraction of large amounts of rock strata along with the coal. However, the central Appalachian mines also more silica particles overall (i.e., occluded + non-occluded) in terms of total number percentage of respirable particles