NIOSH Releases Beta Version of Silica Monitoring Software

"FAST provides a vital link for mines seeking better RCS monitoring tools by bringing the laboratory to the field," said NIOSH Associate Director for Mining Dr. Jessica Kogel.

The NIOSH Mining Program has released a beta version of a new respirable crystalline silica monitoring software, a tool that mines can use to monitor workers' exposure more effectively. Called "FAST," for Field Analysis of Silica Tool, it works together with commercially available FTIR analyzers (Fourier Transform Infrared) to determine a worker's exposure to RCS dust and provides detailed results immediately after a worker's shift.

Mine workers who are overexposed to the dust can develop disabling and potentially fatal diseases such as silicosis, lung cancer, pneumoconiosis (commonly known as "black lung"), and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Key to controlling the dust at mines is the ability to quickly assess the degree of exposure.

"Traditional methods require mines to send samples to a commercial lab for analysis and wait for the results to be returned. Because the conditions in mines change constantly, however, immediate RCS results are needed to establish when and where high concentrations exist and to ensure that, when they do, they do not persist across shifts. The new software coupled with the FTIR analyzer allows for these immediate results," NIOSH reported.

"FAST provides a vital link for mines seeking better RCS monitoring tools by bringing the laboratory to the field," said NIOSH Associate Director for Mining Dr. Jessica Kogel.

NIOSH extensively lab tested the monitoring approach that works with the FAST software, then field tested the approach in the United States and internationally, collecting dust samples in coal mines and samples from other types of mines. This testing led to the release of the beta version of the software to allow for further user feedback.

According to the agency's announcement, respirable crystalline silica results from this initial release of FAST are accurate if a sample is collected in a coal mine. For samples collected in other types of mines, the results should be considered as approximations, since the possible presence of other minerals may decrease the accuracy of the quantification model.

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