Queensland experts to study blast fume safety

THE health and safety implications of pollutants produced in fumes caused by mine blasting will be studied by Queensland’s Safety in Mines Testing and Research Station under a program funded by the Australian Coal Association Research Program.
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Lou Caruana

The 18-month $360,000 research project starts this month and will measure fume clouds directly in the air above 30 blasts and target situations most likely to cause high fumes.

Queensland Commissioner for Mine Safety and Health Stewart Bell said all explosions generate noxious gases and it is accepted worldwide that post-blast fume events will never be fully eliminated from the mining industry.

“This important research will help the mining industry better understand the causes of blast fume clouds and help reduce the potential health risks to workers of breathing in noxious fumes,” he said.

“The mining industry is already operating under new blasting guidelines implemented in 2011 by the Queensland government to minimise the incidence of fume events and better manage those that do occur.”

Bell said the Simtars study would use “differential optical absorption spectroscopy” to analyse the level of pollutants in fume cloud.

“All mine blasting operations in Queensland are closely monitored by trained observers who record the colour of the fume clouds, their direction and distance travelled on the mine site,” he said.

“However, there is little information available about the levels of pollutants within the fume clouds. Only one previous study in the world, conducted in the NSW Hunter Valley in 2006, has attempted to measure them directly in the air above the blast site.

“It is important to provide better data in order to reduce the risks of workers breathing in high levels of pollutants. The study will also assist to understand what causes the fumes to be generated.”

The yellow/orange/red colour in fume clouds is caused by the gas nitrogen dioxide. While this gas will be the main focus of the research nitric oxide, sulphur dioxide and carbon monoxide gases will also be measured at ground level.

A spectrometer will measure different wavelengths of ultraviolet light from the sky as a fume cloud crosses its path and calculate the amount of nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide present.

The size of each fume cloud will be measured by photography and the temperature measured using an infrared camera. Instruments will also be located on the ground further downwind of the blast to measure other pollutants.

The Simtars study aims to provide high quality measurements of pollution levels in the fume clouds and how these vary with the colour and size of the clouds. It will also measure the temperature of the fume clouds to better understand how they mix with ambient air in the atmosphere.

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