Many areas of Australia are flooded, sodden or just very wet in the middle of this Southern Hemisphere Summer. Many workplaces had been expecting to be wetting down worksites and roadways to suppress the dust. Instead the water carts are garaged due to mud. But the environmental and occupational hazard of dust remains a hazard.
On 13 January 2010, it was announced that the Australian Coal Association Research Program will provide almost a quarter of a million dollars over two years to research the suppression of dust by synthetic means. This is a good initiative and one that could benefit many mining and non-mining workplaces but the issue of dust suppression with material other than water has raised environmental and health issues in the past.
Some background to the research report mentioned by Dr Nikki Williams of the NSW Minerals Council in her media release is available from this link to the NSW Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water (DECCW). The report itself is also available online.
Interestingly, the media release from Dr Williams mentions “synthetic dust suppression”, a phrase not used in the DECCW report. The report quotes data from the United States which refers to “chemical dust suppression agents”.
In 2002 an expert panel convened by the United States Environment Protection Agency, potential environmental impacts of chemical or non-water dust suppressants were acknowledged and, amongst many of the recommendations, the panel suggested:
“The risks associated with dust suppressant use can be reduced in the LONG TERM by:
a.Encouraging the development of dust suppressant formulations that are long-lived and environmentally benign.
b. Continuing to develop scientific information about the environmental impacts of dust suppressants.
c. Using information developed in 2a and 2b to update risk-based regulations and application and management practices.”
As mentioned above an Australian research initiative into dust suppression is worthy but as a 2010 report into coal mine dust undertaken by DECCW says:
“The design, maintenance and management of haul roads plays an important role in minimising dust emissions. The level of fugitive dust emissions from haul routes is dependent on the total distance travelled, the nature of the road surface, the speed of trucks, the frequency of application of dust suppressants and the types of dust suppressants used.”
It seems more sensible in a safety context to also invest in research into “the design, maintenance and management of haul roads” as this is likely to provide more effective, long term benefits that could possibly be more cost-effective.
I want to thank the NSW Minerals Council in providing some of the additional references quoted in this article.
Of particular interest is the hourly air quality monitoring undertaken by DECCW, available online.