Mining safety

The University of Arizona (UA) has secured a $1.4m, three-year grant from the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to undertake a comparative study on the effects of underground mining equipment using diesel and biodiesel-blend fuels.

The study will be carried out by occupational and environmental health researchers at the university’s Mining and Geological Engineering Department alongside the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health.

Researchers will determine the effects of biodiesel-blend fuels in the mining community, but also apply data to establish the beneficial or detrimental effects on the public when exposed to biodiesel-blend fuels through emissions from vehicles.

A shift from diesel fuel to biodiesel-blend fuels in mining equipment is seen as a recent trend among miners seeking to reduce engine exhaust particulate exposure. Created from vegetable oil or animal fats, the renewable biodiesel is either added to petroleum diesel or used alone.

UA Zuckerman College of Public Health professor and principal investigator of the study Dr. Jeff Burgess said that diesel particulate exposure in underground mining is above existing standards.

"Biodiesel blends are being employed to reduce these exposures, yet there is no information on whether this increases, decreases or fails to change the toxicity to miners of equipment emissions.

"This study will help determine the health consequences of using biodiesel fuel blends in the underground mining setting," Burgess said.

UA San Xavier Mining Laboratory director and mining and geological engineering department practice professor Ros Hill added: "This partnership is already addressing other current problems facing the mining industry today, such as heat stress, hearing loss and providing effective training for workers."

Image: UA will research the possible health benefits of shifting to bio-fuels in underground mining. Photo courtesy of The University of Arizona.