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Dust from Roads and Your Respiratory Health

Air pollution is often associated with dense urban areas. We usually think of sprawling cities like Los Angeles or Beijing, but rural areas can be susceptible to air pollution as well. In the country, the problem often comes in the form of road dust.

Dust from roads is not just a nuisance. In fact, it can be a serious health concern that is linked to breathing problems and even cancer.

If you live near a gravel road, dirt road, or a congested highway, it’s important that you understand the air quality risks, as well as the solutions, of dust from roads.

Particulate Matter = Dust

In the scientific community, the term particulate matter is often used to describe dust in the air. Although not exactly the same thing (according to the EPA, particulate matter is a combination of airborne solid particles, which can include dust, and liquid droplets), when you see particulate matter in a scientific study, article, or even this piece, you can essentially think of dust. Understanding this term will help you understand the issues involving dust from the roads.

The Dangers of Road Dust

Road dust is made from a mixture of coarse particles that are released into the air, becoming harmful to human health when inhaled.

The health risks from exposure to dust can be complex and difficult to understand, but there are many studies that link dust with numerous health concerns. For example, a study from Yale University found that exposure to fine particles during pregnancy has an association with lower birth rates. The study took into account many factors, including traffic, road dust levels, and regional sources, and found that women who are exposed to higher levels of particulate matter are more likely to have children with lower weights at birth.

Another study, this one also from Yale University, found that exposure to dust is associated with higher rates of hospitalization, including hospitalization related to cardiovascular issues. This particular study found that some particle sources are more harmful than others; in this case, it’s black carbon, calcium, and (you guessed it) airborne dust from roads that had the highest rates of hospitalization.

There is also a concern that cancer-causing contaminants may reside in the rock that is used for gravel. Rock from western states such as North Dakota, the same rock that is used on gravel roads, has been found to contain a substance known as erionite. This substance has physical properties the resemble asbestos; when airborne, the fibers can become concentrated in a person’s lungs, which over time could lead to health effects like mesothelioma, a type of cancer that is usually associated with asbestos.

All of these risks can combine to make dust one of the most dangerous and harmful substances in the air. Dust particles can be difficult to contain in particular because they come in varying sizes. You can have dust that is extremely small, or, from a particulate-matter perspective, quite large. The smaller the particles are, the longer they stay in the air and the more problems they tend to cause.

Larger dust particles, however, tend to settle faster and will land closer to where they were created. Larger dust particles are commonly seen as typical household dust layering your furniture, bookcases, and tabletops. Large particles can be inhaled, but they are more likely to be trapped in the nose and mouth, causing sneezing and coughing that helps expel them from the airways. Large particles are also generally less harmful if they are breathed in or swallowed.

Small particles, however, are more likely to cause an issue. If a particle is so small that it is virtually invisible to the human eye, they can make it all the way to the lungs and can even be transferred from the lungs to the blood stream.

Generally, the type and size of dust particles will determine how toxic the dust is. However, the amount of harm is almost exclusively determined by the amount of dust you breathe and how long you have been inhaling harmful dust particles.

Dust particles that are small enough to be inhaled can cause irritation in the eyes, leading to redness and other issues. You can also experience coughing and wheezing when dust is inhaled into your windpipes. Sneezing and a runny nose is also a common symptom of dust in the air, and some people, if they are allergic to dust, may experience symptoms that resemble seasonal hay fever.

People with asthma can also experience severe attacks that are triggered by dust. These people are particularly vulnerable to the effects of dust and should avoid overexposure to the substance whenever possible. Other people who are susceptible to particulate matter include people with COPD or emphysema; for these people, even small amounts of exposure, amounts that would be of little concern for a typical person, can cause significant breathing issues.

While there is no evidence that dust from roads and other sources causes asthma, there is evidence that dust will increase the severity of asthma attacks.

You don’t, however, need a respiratory condition or be in one of the high-risk groups to be affected by dust. In many cases, babies, young children, and the elderly tend to be more susceptible to breathing conditions and other health effects that are caused by dust. Smokers also tend to experience more symptoms when exposed to road dust.

Cars Can Create Dust as Well

Usually road dust is simply thought of in terms of dirt and gravel dust tossed up by cars, but you can actually have dust that comes from the cars. Every time a car uses its brakes, a small amount of metal dust is released. And while each car releases a microscopic amount, high volumes of cars can actually create measurable amounts of metallic dust.

A study from the Georgia Institute of Technology discovered that metal from brakes can create a cloud of tiny metal particles, and as you might guess, these particles can wreak havoc on your respiratory health.

The lesson? Although it might take a different form, you don’t necessarily have to live in a rural area to be a victim of road dust.

How to Reduce and Avoid Dust from an Unpaved Road

So, what can you do about road dust?

Is there a way that you can keep road dust from becoming an issue near your home?

One way to keep road dust low is to slow down, especially on dry days. While you may not be able to slow other drivers, keeping your speed at a lower level will reduce the amount of dust that is kicked up on a regular basis.

Do yourself and your neighbors a favors and slow down to reduce dust in your area. You could also encourage county or state officials to post reduced-speed signs to keep dust at a minimum.

Other techniques for controlling road dust include the application of water or chemicals that help reduce the overall amount of dust that is kicked up. According to the State of Alaska, some chemicals, such as petroleum-based binders and dust suppressants can reduce the amount of dust from a dirt road.

If you live near a dusty road, you could consider planting trees between your home and the roadway, creating a natural barrier for the dust. You could also consider installing artificial windbreaks, such as fencing and berms, to control the dust.

Inside the home, it may be beneficial to keep windows closed during the dry seasons when dust is higher. This will keep the wind from coming inside and creating indoor air pollution. Even with the windows closed, you should consider using an air purifier or dust collector to control the levels of dust in your home.


Excellent Air Purifiers from a Leading Company

As you now know, dust from road ways can be a serious problem for your overall health. With the right air purifier, however, you can have healthy air in your home.

Contact Oransi today to learn more about our complete line of air purifiers for dust. With Oransi's high efficiency air filters and high performing motors we have all the technology you need for a clean, comfortable home!