Occupational and environmental health researchers at the University of Arizona’s Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health and the department of mining and geological engineering received a $1.4 million, three-year grant to compare exposures and health effects from the operation of underground mining equipment using diesel and biodiesel-blend fuels.
The grant is funded by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
Miners have begun to shift from the use of diesel fuel to biodiesel-blend fuels in an effort to reduce exposure to particulates from engine exhaust. Biodiesel is a renewable fuel derived from vegetable oil or animal fats that can be added to petroleum diesel as a blend or used on its own.
Study results will have a dual purpose. Not only will researchers be able to determine the effects of biodiesel-blend fuels in the mining community, but also apply data to establish the beneficial or detrimental effects on the everyday citizen exposed to biodiesel-blend fuels through vehicular emissions.
“Exposures to diesel particulate in underground mining often exceed existing standards,” said Dr. Jeff Burgess, the study’s principal investigator and a professor at the UA Zuckerman College of Public Health.
“Biodiesel blends are being employed to reduce these exposures, yet there is no information on whether this increases, decreases or fails to change the toxicity to miners of equipment emissions. This study will help determine the health consequences of using biodiesel fuel blends in the underground mining setting.”
“Information on the health effects of conversion to biodiesel fuels in occupational and environmental settings will also help to inform future policy decisions,” added Burgess.
The research team from the UA College of Public Health includes co-principal investigator Eric Lutz, assistant professor (Community, Environment & Policy Division) and co-investigator Chengcheng Hu, associate professor (Epidemiology & Biostatistics Division). Ros Hill, professor of practice in the department of mining and geological engineering and director of the UA San Xavier Mining Laboratory will assist in the study.
The partnership between the Zuckerman College of Public Health and mining and geological engineering has created unique research and educational opportunities for faculty and students while helping to improve health and safety among miners, added Hill.
Said Hill: “This partnership is already addressing other current problems facing the mining industry today, such as heat stress, hearing loss and providing effective training for workers.”