Monitoring and measurement

Monitoring & Meaurement

Monitoring & Meaurement

Ideas generated around Event: GCRF Mine Dust and Health Workshop

For the discussion about exactly what monitoring and measuring entails one needs to investigate purpose – Why do we monitor and measure and What is the end goal? Monitoring and measuring is often liked with health impacts, which is deemed to be inappropriate. However, if not for health impacts why do we monitor and measure? Whether it is for compliance or management or for decent air quality, this is a discussion that needs much more time.

We currently have the national minimum emission standard for dust fall. We should determine ideal standards and regulations, and compare current standards and regulations to ideal ones. We also need to critique how we determine what is appropriate or effective. With regards to the instruments and methods used, we need to assess how we validate the use and implementation of the different instruments. The traditional dust bucket system is inexpensive and shows potential problems. However, it is out-dated and people are getting angry and antagonistic over the continued use of them.

There are better affordable options than the dust bucket: we have very expensive equipment in the national network as well as increasingly cheaper home monitoring systems, and instruments in-between the two. The appropriate distribution of the measurement instrumentation should also be looked into. Modelling of dust fall-out is also very important and the data that is available should be used in effective ways, such as to inform legislation and the distribution of measurement instruments.

We do not have and are in need of an accurate characterisation of the particle size distribution of airborne dust. Another big issue is after collecting a reading, how do we proportionate it to a source, i.e. how much of it comes from a veld-fire, a mine, agricultural activity or naturally occurring dust? The Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) raised this point earlier this year. Dust from agriculture, power stations and natural dusts all end up in one bucket. Farmers blame power stations, who in turn say that the farmers are contributing to the dust too. Thus, a big issue is working out how to accurately proportion the dust to its sources. The current metric that is being used is mass concentration that may be a problematic metric.

However, changing this metric introduces another level of complexity. Furthermore, it is difficult to do analysis on the composition and the effects of composition before we have worked out a practical way to sample and measure dust. Appropriate skills another key factor. There are doubts as to whether the measuring stations are accurately calibrated or properly maintained, as well as whether the people interpreting the data and maintaining the stations have adequate training. Finally, the national measuring networks are being degraded. While this is a problem, it opens up the opportunity for the implementation of creative and appropriate solutions.

There are many exciting possibilities for new technologies and collaborations, as well as networking solutions around transdisciplinarity. There are combinations of affordable and novel instrumentations that can be used. Firstly, there is a flood of low cost sensors that utilises remote technology and allow for real time data. This is a form of citizen-science and the increase in distribution of measuring devices can lead to the vertical distribution of data. This data can be combined with satellite data (which is free). Low cost sensors are able to show what is happening on the ground, while satellites are able to give aerial and visual information. There is also the possibility of putting the low cost sensors next to reference stations.

While this will not provide an absolute measurement of PSD, having a network of sensors will provide a wide distribution of monitoring. There are also more advanced and expensive devices that can generate more extensive and detailed data that cab used for exposure and health studies. Some of these devices are real time instruments that can be operated via a cell phone application. These devices read PM10 and 2,5 levels and show direct exposure in given areas. There are also opportunities to mine big data bases by collaborating with industry that have data that they monitor on site or by combing ‘big data’ from the different domains (environmental and health). There is lots of fragmented data available that can be harnessed.

Some people felt positive about future possibilities, namely that new technology and the combination of data can inform future regulations. However, there was also uncertainty based on previous experiences where not all stakeholders were represented in conversations, and because of this there was antagonism between communities and industry, and in many cases they cease to engage with each other. It is clear that improvements are required, and with all the new and increasingly affordable technology, technological solutions that are more reactive can surely be found. However a concern that was raised was that the expensive technology and measuring instrumentation could be stolen or damaged.

Another concern was that the air quality strategies on mine sites were inadequate in contrast to other monitoring strategies and systems (such as water monitoring systems). There are also frustrations around industrial and residential planning, in which as environments change the regulatory requirements change, creating tension between industries and home owners/estates. Furthermore, in some cases legislation can work against monitoring strategies. Finally, while there is lots of data available, there are inevitable gaps in the data. This could be because we do not have instruments that are sensitive enough to give us the data that we need, and thus are they sufficient to measure harm.

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