Science & Technology



Desert dust storms carry human-made toxic pollutants, and the health risk extends indoors

Claire Williams Bridgwater, Research Professor in Environmental Science, American University and Fatin Samara, Professor of Environmental Science, American University of Sharjah, The Conversation on

Published in Science & Technology News

This is the class of submicron pollutants, abbreviated as PM1.0, which includes degraded microplastics, metallic nanoparticles, diesel exhaust and fine particles from degraded tires. Of all particulate matter classes, submicron particles are the most harmful to human health because when once inhaled, they enter the bloodstream, affecting every organ in the body, and even crossing the blood-brain barrier.

We offer several practices here that we believe would help public health agencies successfully tackle the problem of polluted dust storms.

1: Identify particle content for each dust storm.

Existing technology now makes it possible to identify the types of particles being carried in any particular storm. Scientists can already conduct particle trajectory analysis to trace dust and pollutant particles back to their sources.

Knowing the particle content of dust storms can identify ways to make these storms less hazardous, whether capping sewage systems or securing waste at ports to prevent materials from being picked up by dust storms.

2: Archive samples from each desert dust storm.


One physical catalog for dust storm particles already exists at the 19th-century dust storm archive kept by the Natural History Museum at Humboldt University in Berlin. We see a need for a modern archive that collects digital data on particle types, particle trajectory analysis, spatial coordinates and meteorological data.

Keeping both physical samples and data from each dust storm would allow for a comparative understanding of how and why particle content is changing. This has been done to analyze particle content related to military activity in the Middle East.

3: Protect indoor and closed spaces from the smaller dust storm particles.

During a major dust storm, high-speed winds blow fine particles around windows and doors for days. The particles most likely to penetrate indoors include the smallest, most harmful submicron class.


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