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

Typically, a gray, fluffy residue appears inside buildings after a dust storm, but there is no data so far on the identity and size of these particles. Our concern is that submicron pollutant particles are highly concentrated in this residue.

For a safe cleanup, we recommend that people should avoid dry vacuuming, which lofts particles back into the air. Instead, it is better to remove residues with water and a wet mop. We also recommend wearing face masks indoors before, during and after dust storms, since particulate concentrations start to rise ahead of the main storm. In our view, people should treat dust storm residue inside built structures as hazardous material until studies show otherwise.

4: Educate biomedical and meteorological experts together.

The rising human-made content of desert dust storms, particularly fine and ultrafine submicron particles, is a neglected public health concern that we believe calls for combined medical and meteorological expertise.

By educating biomedical and meteorological experts jointly about dust storms, public health agencies would have more complete strategies for how to best protect people. It would be valuable to have teams of health and weather experts carry out joint analyses of dust storm exposure data, and then apply the best statistical methods to both civilian and military health records.

Climate change is making already-dry areas around the world more arid. As deserts increasingly adjoin cities, industry and transportation corridors, desert dust storms will increasingly mirror human activity on land. These storms are becoming flying waste dumps, and we believe a public health perspective will help produce more effective responses.


This article is republished from The Conversation, an independent nonprofit news site dedicated to sharing ideas from academic experts. If you found it interesting, you could subscribe to our weekly newsletter.

Read more:
Increased deaths and illnesses from inhaling airborne dust: An understudied impact of climate change

Fine particle air pollution is a public health emergency hiding in plain sight

Fatin Samara has received funding from the American University of Sharjah and the Sharjah Research Academy.

Claire Williams Bridgwater does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.


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