There are critical types of hazardous dust and they come in different sizes in which they are classified as inhalable or respirable dust. The article highlights different aspects of the effects of dust on the lungs. Occupational and non-occupational exposure to dust damages the lungs. Dust must be dealt with at its source to prevent exposure and if that cannot happen corrective action must minimize the airborne dust from spreading in the atmosphere. Let us dive deeper and unfold the effects of dust on lungs. A series of events happens to the lungs from the moment dust is inhaled. It strictly depends on the dust fraction size and its ability to lodge in deeper parts of your lungs. 

The major effects of dust on the lungs are –

  • sensitizes the lungs. 
  • scars the lungs.
  • infects the lungs.
  • damages the lungs.
  • causes lung diseases and cancers. 

What are the reactions of the lungs to dust?

The way in which the respiratory system responds to inhaled dust particles depends on where the particles settle. The most significant reactions occur in the deepest parts of the lung. The reaction in the lungs happens as follows:

  • attack of dust by white blood cells called macrophages.
  • macrophages engulf the dust particles.
  • macrophages digest the dust particles.
  • macrophages neutralize the dust particles.
  • also produces proteins that attach to dust particles to neutralize them. 

What are the different types of dust and their effect on the lungs?

There are different types of dust with different effects on lungs which strictly depends on their source. The list is endless given the broad definition of dust which is why we highlight the most common ones in this list:

  • silica dust causes silicosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). 
  • asbestos dust causes pleural mesothelioma, asbestosis and lung cancer. 
  • coal dust causes black lung disease.
  • aluminium dust causes aluminosis. 
  • beryllium dust causes berylliosis.
  • tungsten, tungsten carbide and cobalt dust causes hard metal lung disease.
  • cotton dust causes byssinosis.
  • iron dust causes siderosis. 
  • tin dust causes stannosis. 
  • barium dust causes baritosis.
  • talc dust causes talcosis. 
  • organic dust causes farmer’s lung.
  • droppings and feather dust causes bird fancier’s lung. 
  • moldy sugar cane dust causes bagassosis.
  • compost dust causes mushroom worker’s lung.
  • heat-treated sludge dust causes sewage sludge disease.
  • mould dust causes cheese washers’ lung.

Where can lungs be exposed to dust? 

Literally anywhere which could be occupational and non-occupational exposure. There are some occupations which are prone to dust more than others which increases the risk of lung diseases.

Are environmental regulations, health and safety concerns or potential profit loss a concern right now?

Occupations where lungs can be exposed to dust vary from tradespeople, miners, and construction workers amongst many others. Non-occupational exposure to dust can happen through:

  • home renovations. 
  • doing laundry for someone that brought dust home from work. 
  • servicing brakes and clutch. 
  • working in facility close to dust generating activities.
  • residing close to dust generating activities.

effects of dust on lungsHealth surveillance and case identification – Where is the disconnect? 

The extent of the problem is often underestimated with cases being underdiagnosed or misdiagnosed which leads to underreporting of dust related lung diseases. The disconnect leading to underdiagnosis is attributed to the following:

  • incidents of silicosis are counted by insurance claims.
  • so many victims do not come forward.
  • so many victims do not claim.

The disconnect leading to misdiagnosis of dust lung diseases is pinned on lack of training in occupational dust exposure management and this has resulted in:

  • reliance on chest x-rays which do not detect subtle changes of early silicosis. 
  • many affected workers being misdiagnosed. 
  • many affected workers being told they have no problem

Connecting the pieces – What can we learn from Western Australia?  

In a recent article in press, chest specialist radiologists at Perth Radiological Clinic have made a major breakthrough in CT scans that detect early changes in lungs caused by silica dust using very low doses of radiation. Health surveillance using this technology achieves the following:

  • detection of subtle changes in early silicosis. 
  • use of less radiation dose compared to conventional CT scans. 

This prompted WorkSafe WA to update legislation and set a new standard which requires workers at risk of silicosis to receive health surveillance with low dose CT scans instead of chest x-rays. The scans can detect silicosis long before it is visible on chest x-rays. 

GRT dust control and dust suppression products

All GRT products and processes are founded on the foundation of engineering excellence and innovative performance. GRT offers a products for both, dust suppression and dust control. The product portfolio consists of innovatory technologies that deal with dust at its source. GRT specializes in preventative and corrective dust control and dust suppression. These are the products available on the GRT Marketplace.  Our mandate is to create safer workplaces for people, industry and communities. The list of GRT products for preventative and corrective dust mitigation are given:

  • GRT: Haul-Loc 
  • GRT: Wet-Loc 
  • GRT5000 
  • GRT: BMX. 

Occupational and non-occupational lung diseases include a broad range of lung diseases that may be acute, sub-acute or chronic, and either malignant, non-malignant, or infections in nature. This is the life, victims of exposure to dust affecting their lungs must face. Exposure to dust is preventable if dust is dealt it with at its source. After prevention, comes corrective action which involves binding and dealing with airborne dust to take out of suspension. Depending on how the dust stays in the air, which we will discuss in our upcoming article, prevention is always preferable to reduce the spread of dust to neighboring communities and the environment. Dust sensitizes, scars, infects, and damages lungs causing lung diseases and cancers. 

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Health effects of dust. Retrieved 22/08/21

Lung’s dust. Retrieved 22/08/21. 

Silicosis. Retrieved 22/08/21.

Learn about silicosis. Retrieved 22/08/21. 

What happens if you get dust in your lungs. Retrieved 22/08/21.