The Health Impact of Mineral Dust Air Pollution on the Global and Local Scale

BACKGROUND:

A significant proportion of anthropogenic dust particles are present in the atmosphere. In particular, these include industrial and municipal dust, black carbon from fossil fuels and biomass. Mineralogical research of dust particles in the air is important for knowing their impact on public health in hazardous work environments (not only in Slovakia). In the recent past (in 2000-2010), research of dust fallouts from mining and processing of mineral resources was carried out. Specifically, it was focused on the Lubeník and Jelšava area, where the environment and population were adversely affected by mining activities and magnesite (MgCO3) processing treatment.

METHODS:

The dust obtained from the plastic containers at the sampling stations was filtered in distilled-water wash. Afterwards the dust dispersion, respirable fraction and chemical composition were determined by analytical methods. The mineralogical characteristics of the particles were determined by X-ray powder diffraction (XRD) and their morphology by Scanning electron microscopy (SEM).

RESULTS:

The exposure to dust particles and associated contaminants can cause pulmonary diseases with a significant impact on the inhabitants health and quality of life. The most destructive action of the mineral dust particles comes after their penetration into the alveolar parts of the lungs. Pulmonary dusting, Pneumoconiosis, occurs, when the fibrogenic dust particles smaller than 2.5 µm passes through the alveolar wall into the interstitial space. Insoluble or sparingly soluble minerals are referred to as active, they initiate and activate fibrosis. In the samples from Jelšava-Lubeník, the dominant mineral phases include magnesite occurring as crystals and their fragments and periclase present as irregular allotriomorphic grains, aggregates and masses. According to dusting monitoring, a trend of decreasing in the periclase proportion was observed.

CONCLUSIONS:

Mineral composition and morphology of dust fallouts in the air from mining areas directly affects the health of the population and contributes to the increased incidence of respiratory diseases in the region, even several years after closing the mines or after the change of filters in mineral processing plants. Reducing unwanted air pollution should be a priority for relevant ministries (of health, environment etc.), as well as a challenge for public health professionals.