Origin, distribution, and perspective health benefits of particulate matter in the air of underground salt mine: a case study from Bochnia, Poland

Aleksandra Puławska, Maciej Manecki, Michał Flasza, Katarzyna Styszko

PMID: 33575968 DOI: 10.1007/s10653-021-00832-2


The composition and distribution of airborne particles in different locations in a salt mine were determined in terms of their origin, the distance from the air inlet, and the adaptation of post-mining chambers and corridors for tourists and general audience. The composition of aerosols in air was also evaluated from the perspective of human health. Air samples were collected on filters by using portable air pumps, in a historical underground salt mine in Bochnia (Poland), which is currently a touristic and recreation attraction and sanatorium. The particulate matter (PM) concentration was determined using the gravimetric method by weighing quartz filters. The content of carbon, water-soluble constituents, trace elements, and minerals was also determined. A genetic classification of the suspended matter was proposed and comprised three groups: geogenic (fragments of rock salt and associated minerals from the deposit), anthropogenic (carbon-bearing particles from tourist traffic and small amounts of fly ash, soot, and rust), and biogenic particles (occasional pollen). The total PM concentration in air varied between 21 and 79 μg/m3 (with PM4 constituting 4-24 μg/m3). The amount of atmospheric dust components coming from the surface was low and decreased with the distance from the intake shaft, thus indicating the self-cleaning process. NaCl dominated the water-soluble constituents, while Fe, Al, Ag, Mn, and Zn dominated the trace elements, with the concentration of majority of them below 30 ng/m3. These metals are released into air from both natural sources and the wear or/and corrosion of mining and tourists facilities in the underground functional space. No potentially toxic elements or constituents were detected. The presence of salt particles and salty spray in the atmosphere of salt mine, which may have anti-inflammatory and antiallergic properties, is beneficial to human health. This study will allow for a broader look at the potential of halotherapy in underground salt mines from a medical and regulatory point of view.