Ventilation Control

Miller, Robert W.
Organization: Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration
Pages: 2
Publication Date: Jan 1, 1981
There are many problems faced by ventilation engineers in deep underground mining operations, not the least of which is controlling miner exposure to radon gas and its daughter products. Radon gas is commonly found in uranium mining operations, but may also be present in other deep metal mines. For example, tin mines in England, iron ore mines in Sweden, gold mines in South Africa, and molybdenum mines in the U. S. have potential radon exposures. This is because uranium and accompanying radium ore are ubiquitous to the earth's crust albeit at low levels. The fact that the activity represented by one WL can be caused by a relatively low concentration of radon gas increases the difficulty of control. Since the source of the radon gas is usually widespread throughout a mine, local exhaust ventilation is not a viable control schema. The technique used to control exposure is then dilution ventilation and, in fact, huge amounts of air must be moved in order to reduce potential exposures to an acceptable level. An interesting comparison can be made of ventilation rates in different types of mines. It is estimated in modern coal mines, which are generally acknowledged to have high rates of ventilation, that about eleven tons of air are moved for each ton of ore mined. A typical operating uranium mine may have ventilation flows of 14-15 tons per ton of ore mined. This provides an idea of the scope and importance of ventilation in modern mining operations where radon is a hazard. Further pressure is put on ventilation engineers by the steady downward trend in exposure limits set by national and international standard setting agencies. Much of this tendency toward lowered standards is based upon longitudinal mortality studies of miner populations. Another important factor is the limited number of experienced miners available in the labor pool. For optimum production, it is important to have as many experienced miners underground in each shift as possible. However, the average daily exposure in a U. S. mine must be less than .3 WL to permit the miner to work underground for a full year. The ventilation system then must provide enough uncontaminated air to maintain the WL below the .3 TTL level to maximize production efficiency and minimize personnel turnover and the problems associated with it. Ultimately, the goal of the ventilation engineer and health physicist is to protect the working miner from harmful exposures based upon currently acceptable standards. U. S. Federal regulations require that in uranium mines all active work sites must be monitored every two weeks if they measure above .1 WL. Areas that have .3 WL ratios or higher must be monitored on a weekly basis until five consecutive weekly samples show the level has dropped below .3 WL. Also, exposure records must be kept for all individuals exposed to levels exceeding .3 WL. These requirements provide a strong economic incentive to have a ventilation system that minimizes exposure of any personnel. A good ventilation system requires careful planning, operation and backup in order to fulfill its mission of providing adequate clean air. Its proper operation also requires coordination with production personnel so it can be adapted as new areas in the mine open up and old areas are sealed off. The ultimate indicator of ventilation efficiency to control radon daughter exposure is, of course, monitoring working levels. Historically, this has been done using the Kusnetz, Tsivoglou, and Rolle's methods, among others. These methods all require cumbersome equipment and tedious calculations to obtain the measurements that results in WL. More important, however, they require a significant time lag between sampling and counting, typically 40-90 minutes. This time lag is, in fact, what can cause significant economic losses due to unnecessary downtime as well as high WL exposures. In a typical mining situation, a sampling technician using the Kusnetz method takes a sample, moves to the next location and takes another sample and so on. Forty to ninety minutes after the first sample, the technician will stop, run the activity count on the filter and calculate the WL. The technician may be one-half mile away or several levels removed from where the first sample was taken when it is counted. If the WL ratio is high the technician must then backtrack to the sample position. There are then two options. If the sample area is a working stage, it can be shut down or a second sample can be taken. If the first alternative is chosen; i.e., shutdown and correction of the ventilation, then another sample must be taken, followed by a forty minute wait for results. If the ventilation adjustment didn't correct the problem, then the whole process must be repeated with a minimum of forty-five minutes per sample cycle when using the Kusnetz method. It has been estimated from operating uranium mines that the cost per hour for downtime on a production slope is about $1,50O/hour. The time lag between sampling and resultant data can be very costly. If the second alternative is chosen to verify the first reading, the miners may be unnecessarily exposed to high levels while waiting for the result. Clearly, such a sampling system can be markedly improved by eliminating the excessive time lag between sampling and analysis.
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