Dust containing crystalline silica is common in mining environments in the U.S. and around the world. The exposure to respirable crystalline silica remains an important occupational issue and it can lead to the development of silicosis and other respiratory diseases. Little has been done with regard to the characterization of the crystalline silica content of specific particle sizes of mine-generated dust. Such characterization could improve monitoring techniques and control technologies for crystalline silica, decreasing worker exposure to silica and preventing future incidence of silicosis.
Three gold mine dust samples were aerosolized in a laboratory chamber. Particle size-specific samples were collected for gravimetric analysis and for quantification of silica using the Microorifice Uniform Deposit Impactor (MOUDI). Dust size distributions were characterized via aerodynamic and scanning mobility particle sizers (APS, SMPS) and gravimetrically via the MOUDI. Silica size distributions were constructed using gravimetric data from the MOUDI and proportional silica content corresponding to each size range of particles collected by the MOUDI, as determined via X-ray diffraction and infrared spectroscopic quantification of silica.
Results indicate that silica does not comprise a uniform proportion of total dust across all particle sizes and that the size distributions of a given dust and its silica component are similar but not equivalent. Additional research characterizing the silica content of dusts from a variety of mine types and other occupational environments is necessary in order to ascertain trends that could be beneficial in developing better monitoring and control strategies.