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Federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement Plans to Revise Current Blasting Regulations to Prohibit Visible Nitrogen Oxide Clouds

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WildEarth Guardians has petitioned the Federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM) to revise the current surface mining blasting regulations to prohibit visible nitrogen oxide clouds during aboveground blasting at coal mining operations. The OSM responded to the petition by publishing in the Federal Register on February 20, 2015 that they will initiate rulemaking to address the issue.

Nitrogen oxide and nitrogen dioxide can occur from an explosion of ammonium nitrate and fuel oil with other additives, such as ammonium nitrate fuel oil (ANFO) and emulsions. According to published reports the only visible post-blast gas is nitrogen dioxide, which predominately consists of nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide. The nitrogen dioxide gas is heavier than air and can be a brown, orange, red or yellow cloud.

WildEarth Guardians alleges that exposure to low levels of NOx gases may cause “irritation of eyes, nose, throat, and lungs.” Additionally exposure to high levels of NOx gases may cause “rapid burning, spasms, and swelling of the throat and upper respiratory tract issues, as well as death.”

Based upon the petition and public comment to the petition, OSM is proposing regulatory changes to “ensure that operators and regulatory authorities prevent injury to people and damage to property from any harm that could result from all toxic gases generated by blasting at coal mines, including NOx and carbon monoxide (CO).”

OSM states that there are disparities between various state agencies regulating potentially toxic fumes from coal mine blast sites and therefore intends to initiate rule making predicated on four areas of focus.

  • Define the “blasting area” to provide that the areas affected by blasting are secured and the public is adequately protected.
  • OSM will specify that toxic gases are a danger.
  • Clarify that blasting regulations require the proper management of toxic blasting gases in order to protect people and property from the adverse effects of coal mining.
  • Amend the training and testing criteria for certified blasters to ensure blasters can design and implement blasting plans to mitigate the propagation of toxic gases.

The next step for OSM will be to initiate the rulemaking process which will include notice in the Federal Register and the opportunity for public comment.

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Senior Environmental Consultant
(304) 556-8244
Charleston, WV