The position of Central Europe Energy Partners (CEEP) regarding the European Union’s proposal to decrease the highest admissible level of nitrogen oxide concentration to 2,5 mg/m³ (2 ppm) is not applicable to underground mining in European Union, where this level is much higher in many Member States whereas in some leading countries is currently set at 5,0 mg/m3 (according to the legal regulations for underground mining).
As a result, we feel obliged to express a critical position regarding the presented proposals of the highest admissible levels of occupational exposure. The proposed level by the European Commission is not acceptable, due to the lack of sufficient scientific, social, and economic impact research on the implementation of the planned regulations. In the mining sector, despite the use of the most advanced
machinery and equipment , technologies, and best practices in the field of NO emissions reduction, it is currently impossible to ensure compliance with the norms which are recommended by the Scientific Committee on Occupational Exposure Limits (SCOEL). Furthermore, the level of the highest admissible concentration of hazardous agents, is determined for an eight-hour working day, and for the entire period of professional activity. The actual time of exposure of the mining employees to these agents, throughout the day, is lower than that which is established in the eight-hour norm, and it totals:
- for those employees who are employed on regular 7.5-hour shifts – about 5 hours,
- for those employees who are employed on reduced 6-hour shifts – about 4 hours.
The duration of professional activity of those employees who work underground on regular shifts is limited in many Member States to 25 years, and thus, the duration of their exposure to hazardous agents is also limited. The professional activity of the employees employed outside mining, is usually 15 years longer.
Moreover, in the past 50 years of copper mining, there has been a general shift in the field of the technological level and applied technologies. New machines and equipment , fitted with modern, low-emission combustion engines have been put into operation. New emulsive explosive materials with lower emissions of harmful gases, including NOx, in relation to the traditional, nitroglycerine-based ones which were previously used, have been introduced into the process of mining. The existing exploration systems have been modified, collective and individual protection measures are commonly used, and modern labour organisation solutions have been implemented, as well as work safety management systems, etc., which in total, translates into a significant improvement of work conditions, benefitting the employees’ health.
- The results of medical tests, made for example in KGHM Polska Miedź S.A, on the efficiency of the respiratory systems of about 860 employees of the mines employed in a work environment, in which exposure to nitrogen oxides lasts for periods of 20 or 25 years, do not confirm their negative impact on human health.
- The underground mining industry, despite the application of the most modern machinery and equipment , technology, and best practices in the field of NO mitigation, is currently, unable to comply with the norms recommended by the SCOEL.
- The introduction of new, restrictive norms, related to the admissible NO concentration levels, can have a direct impact on the necessity to limit or halt mineral extractions which could result in a significant reduction of the revenues of the state and local authorities, which are generated by taxes (corporate income taxes, personal income taxes, local taxes (for example for only cooper industry in Poland it amounts to around 800 million Euro per year )about PLN 3.4 billion per year, according to data from 2014),
- At present, there is no alternative technology, to reach the Commission’s proposal. Replacing self-propelled mining machines powered by engines, in line with the TIER (STAGE IV) standard, would be extremely costly. There are ongoing research works related to the use of mining machines powered by electrical engines, in room and pillar systems, and their adoption to the existing geological-mining conditions. It is expected that these solutions could be applied by the mines but not earlier than the next 10 years.
Given the above, a proposal is being made to introduce a transitional period, of not less than 10 years, to allow the mining industry to implement the European Union’s proposals regarding the decrease of the highest admissible level of nitrogen oxide concentration to 2,5 mg/m³ (2 ppm).