Investigation of respirable coal mine dust (RCMD) and respirable crystalline silica (RCS) in the U.S. underground and surface coal mines

Elham Rahimi, Younes Shekarian, Naser Shekarian, Pedram Roghanchi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Dust is an inherent byproduct of mining activities that raises notable health and safety concerns. Cumulative inhalation of respirable coal mine dust (RCMD) and respirable crystalline silica (RCS) can lead to obstructive lung diseases. Despite considerable efforts to reduce dust exposure by decreasing the permissible exposure limits (PEL) and improving the monitoring techniques, the rate of mine workers with respiratory diseases is still high. The root causes of the high prevalence of respiratory diseases remain unknown. This study aimed to investigate contributing factors in RCMD and RCS dust concentrations in both surface and underground mines. To this end, a data management approach is performed on MSHA’s database between 1989 and 2018 using SQL data management. In this process, all data were grouped by mine ID, and then, categories of interests were defined to conduct statistical analysis using the generalized estimating equation (GEE) model. The total number of 12,537 and 9050 observations for respirable dust concentration are included, respectively, in the U.S. underground and surface mines. Several variables were defined in four categories of interest including mine type, geographic location, mine size, and coal seam height. Hypotheses were developed for each category based on the research model and were tested using multiple linear regression analysis. The results of the analysis indicate higher RCMD concentration in underground compared to RCS concentration which is found to be relatively higher in surface coal mines. In addition, RCMD concentration is seen to be higher in the Interior region while RCS is higher in the Appalachia region. Moreover, mines of small sizes show lower RCMD and higher RCS concentrations. Finally, thin-seam coal has greater RCMD and RCS concentrations compared to thicker seams in both underground and surface mines. In the end, it is demonstrated that RCMD and RCS concentrations in both surface and underground mines have decreased. Therefore, further research is needed to investigate the efficacy of the current mass-concentration-based monitoring system.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1767
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2023

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© 2023, The Author(s).

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