A Comparison Of Radioactivity And Silica Standards For Limiting Dust Exposures In Uranium Mines

Borak, T. B. ; Johnson, Janet A. ; Schiager, K. J.
Organization: Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration
Pages: 5
Publication Date: Jan 1, 1981
INTRODUCTION In the USA regulatory agencies have adopted standards which limit the allowable concentration of ore dust in underground uranium mines. The American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists has recommended a threshold limit value for silica which has been incorporated by reference in federal regulations (30 CFR 57, 1980). The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) imposes a limit for unprocessed uranium ore dust for reducing the exposure to radioactive materials from inhalation (10 CFR 20, 1980). We have been unable to trace the origin of the NRC standard. Recently the ICRP has published recommendations concerning limits for intakes of radionuclides by workers (ICRP, 1979). We have used the ICRP methodology to compute the dose equivalent commitment to lung and bone from inhalation of insoluble ore dust particles. These values were used to derive air concentrations which would provide an acceptable risk for induction of cancer from occupational exposure. Results indicate that the new ICRP recommendations are more restrictive than the present NRC standard for radioactivity. The maximum allowable dust load in a uranium mine will depend on both the concentration of silica (% Si02) and the amount of radioactivity (% U308). We have combined these standards assuming complete independence of biological hazard to establish boundary conditions for which either silica or radioactivity is the dominating factor. Based on these results we present suggestions for analysis of ore dust to insure compliance with regulatory agencies. SILICA STANDARDS Silicosis, fibrotic lung disease produced by crystalline silica, was one of the earliest forms of occupational disease to be recognized. The pulmonary lesions caused by silica, silicotic nodules, consist of concentrically arranged bundles of collagen fibers. Fusion of these nodules results in progressive massive fibrosis causing alveolar changes which decrease ventillation and blood flow in the lungs. The current Threshold Limit Value (TLV) for mineral dusts is based on the concentration of free silica. The standard is expressed in three forms: (1) Particle count standard: TLV (mppcf) = 300/(% Si02 + 10) (mppcf = million particles per cubic foot) (2) Respirable dust mass standard: TLV (mg/m3 ) = 10/(% respirable Si02 + 2) (3) Total dust standard: TLV (mg/m3 ) = 30/(% Si02 + 3) The most commonly used form is the respirable mass standard. These curent values for silica are based primarily on epidemilogical studies of Vermont granite workers and other occupationally exposed workers. In the Vermont study no cases of silicosis were seen in individuals employed after dust control measures were initiated and whose subsequent exposure averaged less than 5 mppcf. The free silica concentration in the airborne dust to which these workers were exposed averaged 25%. A concentration of 10 mppcf of granite dust is considered equivalent to 0.1 mg/m3 quartz. The current respirable mass standard allows a maximum silica concentration of 0.1 mg/m3. NIOSH (1974) has recommended a reduction in the current TLV for respirable silica to 0.05 mg/m3 Si02. As with radiation standards, the TLV for mineral dusts is an upper limit for time weighted average exposure. It is recommended that dust concentrations be maintained as far below the TLV as current practices permit. RADIATION STANDARDS The present concentration limit for airborne natural uranium in ore dust prior to chemical separation is 75 µg of uranium per m3 of air ( 10 CFR 20, 1980) . This corresponds to 1.85 Bq/m3 (50 pCi/m3 ) of natural uranium, U-238, U-235 and U-234 and is equivalent to 3.7 Bq/m3 (100 pCi/m3 ) of gross alpha activity with radioactive equilibrium between the long-lived alpha progeny through Ra-226. The origin or basis for this standard is not known, but it presumably includes both chemical toxicity and risk from somatic radiation injury. Recently the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP, 1977) has published recommendations concerning the objectives and criteria for limiting radiation exposures. This was followed b y a revision of the limits for intake of radionuclides by workers (ICRP, 1979; ICRP, 1980). The previous compilation of limits for internal emitters was published by ICRP Committee II in 1959 (ICRP, 1959). The latest version includes new methodlogy outlined in ICRP Publication 26 (ICRP, 1977) as well as extensive metabolic information
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