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Eliminating toxic mine dump dust

Toxic mine-dump dust is increasingly a major problem for the mining industry. During the windy season from July to September, strong winds carry this toxic inhalable dust great distances, and high enough to enter the jet stream.

Polymer Pavements’ Dust- Tech product could be a vital factor in preventing dust from becoming a health hazard, Polymer Pavements CEO, Nick Muller, says. “By simply spraying Dust-Tech over the loose material, and allowing it to settle, within an hour, a thin plastic type film will be formed over the soil, binding the sand particles and penetrating at least 4.0 mm deep into the soil. This will effectively eliminate the harmful dust being formed on the mines and could help combat diseases such as silicosis.”

Silicosis, also known as Potter’s Rot, is a form of occupational lung disease caused by the inhalation of crystalline silica dust, and is marked by the inflammation and scarring of nodular lesions in the upper lodes of the lungs. Workers most commonly exposed to high levels of silica and most at risk, are those in mines, foundries and the general construction industries.

“Employers can reduce the risk of exposure to silicosis by keeping the amount of silica dust as low as possible,” continues Muller. “Companies have no excuse not to implement preventative measures when a dust suppressing product such as Dust-Tech can contain the issue within an hour.”

For increased visibility and aesthetic purposes, the polymer may also be tinted to a specific colour such as green. For this, another coat of polymer will be required. Dust-Tech is environmentally friendly, and allows seedlings and grass to grow through the film.

Dust dilution increases with distance as it is transported by wind. Therefore, inhabited areas close to mine dumps are at greatest risk. The risk associated with airborne toxic substances is measured in terms of the mass of each toxic substance for every unit volume of air, usually in grams, milligrams or micrograms for every cubic meter of air.

In the past, legislation to control the spread of toxic mine dump dust has not been effectively implemented. The Department of Minerals and Energy (DME) and environmental legislators appeared to have regarded dust from mine dumps, other than asbestos, as constituting mere nuisance dust, the distribution of which can be determined by precipitation sampling, expressed in grams of dust precipitated a square meter. However, analysis of this dust reveals the presence of a variety of toxic compounds, such as aluminium, arsenic, copper, iron, manganese, lead, zinc, uranium and cyanide.

“By routinely maintaining dust control systems and other occupational health practises, companies can minimise their employees’ exposure to potential diseases and the potential law suits that might follow later, possibly even 20 to 30 years from now,” Muller concludes.