Life Support in Underground Mines

Stein, Richard L.
Organization: Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration
Pages: 31
Publication Date: Jan 1, 1982
INTRODUCTION Increasing a miner's chance of surviving a disaster requires advance planning for emergencies, adequate training of personnel, and the provision of proper survival equipment. It is extremely important that fires and toxic gases be detected early, and that warning systems such as stench, audible and visual alarms, and communications systems be provided to allow timely escape. However, situations do occur where timely warning is not provided and immediate escape is not possible, regardless of the precautions that are taken. Under such circumstances, a combination of new per¬sonal protective devices and old techniques can provide protection that is adequate to save a miner's life. SELF-RESCUE EQUIPMENT Self-rescuers are devices which provide a short-term supply of respirable air under the potentially lethal con¬ditions following a mine disaster. Functioning either as filtration devices for the elimination of carbon monoxide (CO) or as oxygen supplies, self-rescuers allow an endangered miner a limited amount of time in which to effect an escape or reach a place of temporary safety. Carbon-Monoxide Self-Rescuers For almost 50 years, filtration self-rescuers have protected miners' lives following explosions or fires. Designed to eliminate carbon monoxide from inhaled air, the first of these devices was approved in the 1920s and has evolved into the two units that are approved today-the Mine Safety Appliance (MSA) W-65 and the Draeger 810. Both of these units rely on the cata¬lytic conversion of very toxic carbon monoxide to rela¬tively safe levels of carbon dioxide (CO,). As shown in Figs. 1 and 2, both of these filtration self-rescuers operate in the same manner. On inhalation, the mine air passes through both coarse and fine filters that remove the dust, preventing the dust from coating the chemical beds or entering the miner's mouth. The air then passes over a drying agent that removes water vapor; this is required to prevent the water vapor from poisoning the catalyst. Subsequently, the dried air passes over the Hopcalite catalyst, where carbon monoxide is converted to carbon dioxide. Then, the air passes through a heat exchanger that reduces the temperature of the inhaled air. Finally, the air is inhaled by the user. Air exhaled by the user passes through the heat ex¬changer and exits the device through an expiratory valve. Both units of this type are subject to certain limita¬tions: 1) The units do not protect the user against oxygen¬deficient air; when air is inhaled through this type of self-rescuer, the device only removes the carbon mon¬oxide. If the mine air contains less than 15% oxygen, anoxia is inevitable. Symptoms of anoxia include dizzi¬ness, shortness of breath, quickened pulse, and deeper and more rapid respiration while the victim is at rest. During heavy exertion such as would be expected dur¬ ing escape efforts, a 15% oxygen level can cause loss of consciousness. 2) The units do not protect against excessive levels of carbon dioxide. Available data on carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide concentrations following explosions or fires are limited, but there are indications that the carbon monoxide concentration can rise to 2% and the carbon dioxide concentration can reach 5 or 6% of the mine air (by volume). In some situations, the in¬haled air could contain up to 6 or 7% carbon dioxide. At a carbon dioxide concentration higher than 2%, breathing patterns can be affected adversely. At a con¬centration of 6 or 7%, the effects include severe respira¬tory distress, with unconsciousness resulting from exer¬tion such as that needed for escape activities. 3) The units do not protect against high inhalation temperatures. The catalytic oxidation of carbon mon¬oxide to carbon dioxide is an exothermic reaction that evolves a large amount of heat. As the carbon monoxide concentration increases, the temperature of the inhaled air also increases. Available data show that above 1.5% carbon monoxide, the air inhaled through some self¬rescuers can be as high as 90°C (194°F). At those
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