Diesel Particulate Matter Filters for Mines in the DRC & Zambia

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The First Line of Defence

Retrofitting diesel particulate filters (DPF) on mobile equipment in mines in the DRC and Zambia could keep potentially carcinogenic diesel particulate matter (DPM) emissions at bay. The operational benefits of reduction are immense: cost savings on ventilation expenses and clean air, providing a healthy working environment for workers.

By Sibonelo Magagula

Currently, engines of mobile equipment are purring at mine sites in the DRC and Zambia. This indicates increasing productivity: perfect from the perspective of increasing the bottom line (shareholders must be rubbing their hands in glee!). On the other hand, the downside is that this situation exposes mineworkers to the risk of exposure to emissions, specifically diesel particulate matter (DPM) from engine tailpipes.

Business Case for Mitigation Measures

Evidently, there is a compelling business case for the adoption of effective mitigation measures when one considers the matter (no pun intended) from the perspective of employee health.

For a vivid picture of the inherent risks of DPM emissions, it is rational to analyse the health risks of DPM exposure and what regulation says about mitigation measures.

  • Health Risks

In 2012, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an arm of the World Health Organisation (WHO), declared diesel exhaust to be a Group 1 Human carcinogen, and the World Health Organisation (WHO) in its review, the body highlights: “Air pollution is one of the greatest environmental risks to health. By reducing air pollution levels, countries can reduce the burden of disease from stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, and both chronic and acute respiratory diseases, including asthma.”

  • Regulation

Currently, in DRC and Zambia, there are no legally-binding tailpipe emissions standards specifically obligating mining companies to control exposure to diesel exhaust and DPM. Even South Africa, a jurisdiction with Africa’s most sophisticated mining sector, does not have tailpipe emissions standards. Regulatory mechanisms for the control of exposure to diesel particulate matter (DPM) in the African mining sector have been lacking.

Nonetheless, in accordance with the regulations in their respective jurisdictions, from a health and safety viewpoint, mining companies in the DRC and Zambia are obligated to carry out workforce risk level assessments on identified factors.

For instance, Article 210 of the 2018 Mining Code that the DRC Department of Mines stipulates: “Any holder of a mining or exploitation quarry right is required to publish safety instructions about the specific conditions of his exploitation.”

In the Zambian mining sector, four laws govern health and safety in mining: • The Mines Act; • The Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA); • The Factories Act; and • The Workers’ Compensation Act (WCA)

In the absence of local regulation specific to DPM emissions, mining companies in these two jurisdictions can voluntarily apply international best practices to eliminate or reduce the risk exposure. For respective mine operators, exposure limits in Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America can be adopted. These can inform suitable mitigation measures.

‘The Low-hanging fruit’

Fortunately, among other interventions at their disposal, mining companies can explore the use of tried and tested DPM filters to mitigate the risk. In an industry update, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that emissions carried from engines retrofitted with the filters are efficient, removing up to 99% of DPM from diesel engine emissions (NO2 Emission Increases Associated with the Use of Certain Diesel Particulate Filters in Underground Mines).

Beyond question, the low-hanging fruit within the grasp of mining companies is the use of effective DPM filters that can handle the conditions where mining vehicles are used. Without these filters, diesel particulate matter can spread through underground mines.

Worthwhile Investment

By and large, the retrofitting of DPM filters on loaders, trucks, and underground vehicles to reduce tailpipe DPM emissions should not be regarded as an investment. In particular, there are two takeaways from reduced emissions:

  • Firstly, the required ventilation is lowered, resulting in savings in operating costs.
  • Secondly, clean air produces a healthier working environment for all personnel in the mine. Employees are more productive, translating into increased revenue.

Mindset Shift Urgent

Thus far, there is no credible data that indicates the level of base DPM exposure in the African mining sector in general. Despite this, as the saying goes in issues of occupational health and safety: What you don’t know could be a silent killer.

Truth be told, the average mine worker on the continent could be facing higher risks to their health than imagined. While there is no binding regulation in DRC and Zambia, and indeed the entire mining sector, there is an urgent need for a mindset shift. Hence, it is essential to utilise the first line of defence that DPM filters offer.

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