How does dust affect air quality?

 

In 2008, the US EPA estimated unpaved roads contributed about 8.1 million tons of fine soil particulates in the form of dust into the air every year. Representing 67% of the total particles found in the air, these particles represent a real health hazard for those who live, work or commute along unpaved roads. Commonly referred to as PM10 and PM2.5 (soil particles ranging in size from 10 micrometers to 2.5 micrometers, and smaller than 2.5 micrometers, respectively), these particles are capable of penetrating to the deeper thoracic regions of the respiratory tract resulting in respiratory health issues (Federal Register 2006). Specifically, major health concerns from exposure to PM10 include effects on breathing, damage to lung tissue, cancer and premature death. PM2.5 particles are able to penetrate into lung alveoli, reducing the transfer of oxygen to the bloodstream.

As anyone who has lived or traveled along an unpaved road can attest, the smallest of particles found in road dust can be held in the atmosphere for hours or even days. As a result, each passage of a vehicle adds additional fine particles to the atmosphere making the total particle concentration cumulative. Additionally, smaller particles can be transported miles away from the source or enter homes causing an increased health concern since those with respiratory health issues cannot escape the dust.

 

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