Dust, not so simple

Dust is commonly perceived as something that originates from the soil. It is easily noticeable on our household floor or items such as furniture, fabrics and many gadgets or goods in homes. In addition, it has a considerable footprint on household goods, particularly on electronic equipments resulting in their reduced performance. No matter how simple it may sound; it can be very complex in its constituents. Differing in size, it can also produce adverse health effects. Some effects on our wellbeing include digestive and respiratory problems and skin allergies in sensitised people.

Dust has many origins and can be categorised as household dust, dust from air pollution, twisters and tornedoes or soot11dust storm, cosmic dust to name a few. Nevertheless, these different forms vary widely in their size, nature and composition. According to one study, the average person breathes about 250 million litres of air during their life time. It is anybody’s imagination how our health can be affected If this air is not pure enough.

Sources of household dust:
• A typical effect experienced by many of us is throat irritation or sneezing in the immediate vicinity of fine red chili powder dust.
• House hold dust consists of fabric particles and organic matter released from dead skin of the human body and which subsequently gets deposited on linens and furniture.
• The house dust invariably consists of dust mites and mycotoxins from mold which are a common cause for itchy skin, rash, asthma and hay fewer.
• Another cause of concern is household construction material asbestos dust which is related to various lung diseases.
• While asbestos present as such in household construction material is not responsible for respiratory problems, it is the dust released from asbestos that becomes airborne can cause serious health concerns.

construction siteThe ambient dust transports dust mites and pollen which are common causes of hayfever and allergies experienced by many of us. Our immune system attacks anything in our body that it recognises as foreign—such as an invading microbe, plant pollen, or chemical. The process results in inflammation.
It is obvious that a residential home or business having items like plastics, foams, fabrics, carpets, wood products, synthetic fabrics, wool and asbestos containing materials will result in toxic chemicals upon their destruction during a fire event. Put simply, a modern in-built environment is more prone to releasing harmful smoke in the event a fire occurs.
Occupationally, economic benefits often overtake and overlook health concerns. Many workers in different industrial sectors often face working with materials that release fine or coarse dust. The sources of dust in a work environment are numerous such as asbestos, wood, cement, bricks and coal-to name a few. The dust from all these materials are known to be carcinogenic or effecting lung function and cause big occupational health and safety issues. It is encouraging to note new technologies are emerging which assess and monitor dust-borne effects.

The outdoor air arising from dust storms, burnt activity or industrial chemical emissions is also known to cause health havoc.soot
• A published study shows that air pollution accelerates the progression of atherosclerosis, a condition which narrows blood vessels of the heart leading to heart attacks.
• In another study, high blood pressure was related with short-term and long-term exposure to some air pollutants usually associated with the burning or combustion of fossil fuels, dust and dirt. Fire smoke releases soot, a form of burnt material or dust. Soot or fire smoke is a cocktail of chemicals comprising a complex mixture of different gases, particles and carbon resulting from the various materials that are being burned.

The critical factor and associated health problems of dust lie in its size.
• The particle size of soot is approximately 2.5 microns, a size that is associated with deep lung penetration.
• Particles that are approximately 10 microns or larger get trapped in the upper respiratory tract.
• Particles that are 5 microns or smaller are able to penetrate down to the lower lung.
• In order to give some perspective on the size of these particles, the dust you see flying in the light coming through a window is about 40 microns in size.

AshDust remarkably has cosmic origin also, known as cosmic dust. Cosmic dust present in outer space released from comets, metroid and extraterrestrial objects, forms a fascinating study in itself.

While inhalation of fine dust is injurious to health, interestingly dust in general and in particular ash dust has special significance in some culture and religion.
It is considered as sacred and has philosophical meaning. It is believed that sacred ash signifies that the human form originated from dust and ash and to dust and ash it shall return, signifying the temporariness.

Subbalakshmi Yerramilli