Elemental properties of coal slag and measured airborne exposures at two coal slag processing facilities.J Occup Environ Hyg. 2017 05; 14(5):360-367.JO
In 1974, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recommended a ban on the use of silica sand abrasives containing >1% silica due to the risk of silicosis. This gave rise to substitutes including coal slag. An Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigation in 2010 uncovered a case cluster of suspected pneumoconiosis in four former workers at a coal slag processing facility in Illinois, possibly attributable to occupational exposure to coal slag dust. This article presents the results from a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health industrial hygiene survey at the same coal slag processing facility and a second facility. The industrial hygiene survey consisted of the collection of: (a) bulk samples of unprocessed coal slag, finished granule product, and settled dust for metals and silica; (b) full-shift area air samples for dust, metals, and crystalline silica; and (c) full-shift personal air samples for dust, metals, and crystalline silica. Bulk samples consisted mainly of iron, manganese, titanium, and vanadium. Some samples had detectable levels of arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, and cobalt. Unprocessed coal slags from Illinois and Kentucky contained 0.43-0.48% (4,300-4,800 mg/kg) silica. Full-shift area air samples identified elevated total dust levels in the screen (2-38 mg/m3) and bag house (21 mg/m3) areas. Full-shift area air samples identified beryllium, chromium, cobalt, copper, iron, nickel, manganese, and vanadium. Overall, personal air samples for total and respirable dust (0.1-6.6 mg/m3 total; and 0.1-0.4 mg/m3 respirable) were lower than area air samples. All full-shift personal air samples for metals and silica were below published occupational exposure limits. All bulk samples of finished product granules contained less than 1% silica, supporting the claim coal slag may present less risk for silicosis than silica sand. We note that the results presented here are solely from two coal slag processing facilities, and more in-depth air monitoring is needed to better characterize occupational exposure to coal slag dust, metals, and silica at similar facilities.