5 (+1) Myths of Dust
July 1, 2014
Dust is omnipresent. It coats your counter tops, lines your floors, covers your carpets, floats in the air and settles on your body.
An organic or inorganic solid particle, dust is visible and invisible, ranges in size from below 1 µm up to around 100 µm – i.e. from microscopic particles to the consistency of grains of sand – and is released into the air either via natural decay or through man made processes. Dust is generally regarded as a nuisance that can cause minor and major health issues – including nasal irritation, itching, asthma, cough – and in worst cases, affect the brain, kidney and other organs.
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But there are several prevalent myths about dust that need to be addressed, so you could take proper precautionary measures to subvert negative consequences. Following are five (PLUS one) common ones:
- Mopping eliminates all dust: While sweeping and swabbing your home regularly is definitely recommended, it does not remove all the dust. Dust is still present on your mattresses, pillows, sofas. Regular vacuums recirculate dust into the air, which then settles down on surfaces and into other hidden nooks and crevices. More importantly, dust is not produced just one time. It is constantly moving into your home through open doors and windows. Even internal appliances, fabric fibers and cooking can contribute to dust particulates in your home. Hence, it is near impossible to eliminate dust simply by vacuuming and mopping, although some vacuum cleaners equipped with a High Efficiency Particulate Air or HEPA filter do a better job than regular vacuum cleaners.
- Dust cannot be explosive: On the contrary, many products – including agricultural products, metals, chemical dusts, pharmaceuticals, pesticides, textiles and plastics – can become combustible dust in the right conditions and concentrations. In essence, any workplace that generates dust is at risk. According to the Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety , when combustible dust of the right size is dispersed in air and confined within a limited area, pressure builds up, and this increases the probability of an explosion. Routinely screening your workplace might help prevent any combustible dust hazards.
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- Household Dust is Not Toxic: Household dust is made up of several components, depending on your locality, weather conditions, cooking preferences, lifestyle and so on – and, contrary to popular opinion, is NOT mostly human skin cells. It is a complicated and icky mixture of internal and external pollutants, some of which are toxic. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) states that a common household toxin is chemical flame retardant, which has been added to several everyday items, such as TV, computers and furniture. These chemicals have been known to ‘escape’ or ‘shed’ from products and settle as household dust, which can prove quite harmful to your family, especially to young children. Periodically cleaning your home with special-filter vacuums and wet mops, along with dust-proofing hard-to-reach crevices, might help minimize the negative side effects of these unfortunate toxins.
- Dust and Dust Mites Are the Same: In actuality, dust and dust mites mean different things. While dust is an accumulation of tiny, non-living particulates from various natural and man made sources – and are generally suspended in air – dust mites are living organisms that are tinier than dust particles and feed on shed human cells. Most of the allergies occur due to our intolerance to the fecal matter of such dust mites. Dust mites – like any fungi – thrive in humid environments, so a dehumidifier will go a long way in negating their presence!
- All Kinds of Dust Pose Similar Hazards: As per the World Health Organization (WHO), the health risks associated with dust particles varies depending on the type of dust and the exposure to the dust. The exposure, in turn, depends on the air concentration, particle size and length of exposure. The particle size determines how long it remains suspended in air and where it gets deposited in the respiratory tract. In addition, whether you inhale through your mouth or your nose, and how long you hold your breath, affect the impact of the dust particles. Inhalable dust (less than 100 microns) enter the mouth and nose during normal breathing; Thoracic Dust (less than 10 microns) are particles that will pass through nose and throat to reach the lungs, while Respirable Dust – the smallest dust particulates of less than 5 microns – penetrate into the gas exchange region of the lungs, making them the most hazardous for your health. This way, the effect of dust depends on a gamut of factors, and it is crucial to take timely and apposite preventative measures depending on the type of particle.
Now, for the +1 myth that deserves to be noted:
Dust Has NO Benefits: Dust has gotten a bad rap – and quite deservedly. They are scratchy, itchy and simply a pesky pain in our lives. HOWEVER, just like there are two sides to everything, dust too has its benefits. Dust particles scatter sunlight in all directions, which prevents our surroundings from turning completely dark for around couple hours around sunset. Also, the scintillating and multi-hued twilights, sunrises and sunsets could be attributed to dust particulates suspended in air. Finally, certain types of dust particles – called condensation nuclei – retain moisture and cause rain when water vapor condenses around them during cooler conditions.
Hopefully, busting these myths help you better understand the enigmatic phenomenon of dust. You can now take appropriate measures to incorporate a healthier lifestyle at home and outside.
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