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CDC awards Clemson researcher $700,000 to study black lung prevention

CLEMSON Black lung disease is not a problem of the past: members of the mining work force continue to die from it and associated ailments.

In response, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has awarded John R. Saylor, associate professor of mechanical engineering at Clemson University, a three-year $700,000 grant to investigate methods for reducing harmful particulate levels in coal mines. Saylor's research focuses on a combination of water sprays and ultrasonics to remove dangerous particles from the air. He will work in collaboration with researchers at Boston University.

"The cause of black lung disease and its affiliated ailments is simple: the presence of coal and silica dust. If we can lower the levels of these particles, we can lower the incidence of these diseases," said Saylor.

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), which conducts research and makes recommendations for the prevention of work-related illnesses and is part of the CDC, coal workers' pneumoconiosis (CWP or black lung disease) is directly or indirectly responsible for the deaths of more than 21,000 miners since the mid-1980s.

Saylor says the high levels of coal-mine dust exposure for miners remains essentially unchanged since that time even though water sprays have been used for years to reduce dust levels in mining environments.

"These sprays historically have done a poor job of removing dust particles in the size range that is most damaging to the human lung," said Saylor. "By adding ultrasonic energy to the mix, we'll look at ways to excite the water droplets and more effectively remove dust particles."

According to NIOSH, from 1995 to 1999, more than 26 percent of recorded coal-mine dust exposure levels exceeded recommended exposure level. The increased use of diesel engines in underground mines also has raised concerns over the threat of diesel particulate matter to which miners are subjected.

Approximately 30,000 U.S. miners are exposed to diesel particulate matter levels in excess of recommended concentrations in spite of existing regulations and safety equipment.


Contact: Susan Polowczuk
Clemson University

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