The world is transitioning towards low carbon alternatives to reduce its carbon footprint. The majority of the countries have their own timeline and targets for sustainable development goals (SDGs). Additionally, the transport sector is undergoing a major shift toward electric vehicles. The increasing demands for renewable and clean energy sources such as electric vehicles, solar panels, etc. have their roots in the Earth’s crust. Mining of Nickel, Cobalt, Lithium, etc. is going to increase. It is estimated that Lithium demand will be nearly 1.3 million tonnes of LCE (Lithium Carbonate Equivalent) by the year 2025. The booming of the mining and construction industries also bring an uninvited guest: Dust Pollution.
Mining and quarrying sites are one of the major sources of dust pollution. Dust monitoring at mine and quarries become crucial as the dust particles consisting of particulate matter (Size Range: 1 micrometre to 100 micrometres) cause detrimental health effects. Oizom’s DustroidTM can be deployed at the mining site and around the boundary to monitor PM1, PM2.5, PM10, PM100 and provide useful insights through data analysis.
Why should we monitor dust at mines and quarries?
Globally, India ranks high for overall mineral production with rich sources of Coal, Mica, Aluminium, Steel, Lead, etc. The mining, on-site extraction, and processing of these minerals cause severe air pollution and water pollution. Several complaints are filed in India by the citizens, about the deterred air quality due to mining processes. Steel and coal mines were exempted during the nationwide lockdown increasing the dust pollution in the nearby area.
The raw materials for the construction such as stones, sand, limestone, etc. are obtained through open-pit mining, also known as quarrying. Activities such as drilling, excavation, dynamite mining cause severe dust generation and particulate pollution. Processes like smelting at mines produce toxic gases such as sulfur oxides. Moreover, dust pollution due to mining for battery materials like lithium, lead, and radioactive materials like Uranium contains traces of those metals, which are carcinogenic in nature.
The underground mining sites pose even a graver threat to the miners due to insufficient ventilation. The dust particulates suspended in the enclosed area gets trapped and increases the dust concentration. High dust concentration reduces visibility and causes respiratory diseases to the workers. The workers and miners without proper protection masks may suffocate and experience serious health problems. As the safety of the worker at mining and quarrying sites is the liability of the mining company, it becomes mandatory for them to follow the OSHA standards and not to breach the prescribed exposure limit. Dust monitoring at mines and quarries is a primary step to curb particulate pollution ensuring better ambient air quality.
Dust monitoring enforced by Regulatory bodies for mines and quarries
Globally the government and environmental agencies have implemented strict regulations and stringent standards regarding air quality at mining and quarrying sites. The new policies and guidelines are planned to keep in mind the exponential growth in the demand for minerals and its implication on mining industries. It is mandatory for the mining companies to provide monitoring and mitigative strategies while getting environmental clearance.
With more stringent government regulations, dust monitoring at mines becomes an integral part of sustainable mining. According to the direction of the National Green Tribunal, it is mandatory to identify the sources of pollution and dust generation at the mining sites. The yearly compliance report of the monitoring should be submitted to the required authority during the environmental audits. The Enforcement and Monitoring guidelines for Sand Monitoring (2020) suggested using water sprinklers to control dust pollution and particulate matter at the quarry, mines, and deposit sites.
Open mines and quarries are also the potential fugitive sources for the dust particles as they are easily dispersed and carried away by the winds. The mines at the famous Kolar Gold Fields (KGF), years after its closure, acts as a fugitive source of dust particles. The mine dust mixed with sodium cyanide has caused respiratory tract infections and skin allergies to the citizens living nearby.
Monitoring and mitigating dust pollution using Real-time dust monitors
Dust monitoring at mines and quarries can be carried out using low-cost sensor-based continuous monitoring systems such as Oizom’s DustroidTM. It has proven to be an economically feasible solution to create a robust network of monitoring stations. The conventional manually operated systems used to suppress the dust concentration at such sites, such as sprinklers, sprayers, mist cannons prove to be costly and water-intensive. The water usage can be minimized by data-driven automatic systems. Oizom’s DustroidTM can be easily integrated with dust suppressers, hence automating the systems. Threshold limits are set in the system according to the exposure limits of OSHA or Ambient Air Quality Standards. A breach in the set limit automatically triggers the mist cannon or sprayers and stops them when the concentration is within the limits.
In cases like KGF, DustroidTM can be equipped with WeathercomTM to monitor meteorological parameters such as wind speed, direction, temperature, humidity, etc. The combined data is processed and through dispersion analysis pollution heat maps are generated. Automatic alerts through messages and screens can be sent to the citizens exposed to particulate pollution.