How do dust storms affect air quality?

In this blog post, we will discuss “how do dust storms affect air quality?” Firstly, we will talk about air pollution. Secondly, the article will emphasize what dust storms and their process is. Thirdly, it will also outline the relation between a dust storm and air quality. In the end, the article will provide solutions to decrease air pollution.

How do dust storms affect air quality?

Yes, dust storms affect air quality. Air quality can turn into unhealthy levels, which can cause a threat to the environment. The following factors are involved due to dust storms:

  • Visibility
  • Human Health
  • Socio-economic losses

First, let’s see what air pollution is all about.

What is air pollution?

The introduction of harmful agents into the atmosphere is known as air pollution. The toxic agents are known as pollutants. These pollutants are derived from natural and human activities, and they can be chemical or biological.

Major pollutants present in the air are particulate matter (PM), ground-level ozone (O3), NO2, SO2, and CO. Air also has lead, allergens, bacteria, viruses and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Besides climate change, air pollution has become a significant environmental risk to human health. 

Therefore, striving towards minimising air pollution can also help to improve climate change mitigation efforts. In addition, reducing emissions will enhance the quality of air. 

Air pollution is caused due to natural events or man-made activities. 

Air pollution which occurs due to natural phenomena is called natural pollution. Examples of natural pollution are volcanic eruptions, dust storms and wildfires.

Let’s see what are dust storms in detail. 

What is a dust storm, and how does it happen?

Sand or dust storms are natural events that occur when strong winds come in contact with the barren, arid or semi-arid regions. Such winds pick up loose dry soil and dust from the land surface and carry it with them to thousands of miles away. Such natural phenomena are usually caused by thunderstorms or intense wind pressures due to cyclones.

The troposphere is the lowest layer of Earth’s atmosphere. As per the World Meteorological Organization, around 40% of aerosols in the troposphere are dust particles from wind erosion. Aerosols are nothing but microscopic solid particles or liquid droplets which are suspended in the atmosphere. The aerosols play a crucial part in the composition and concentration of airborne pollutants.

Dust storms can occur anywhere in the United States. However, they are prominently found in the Southwest. The other names of dust storms are haboobs, sirocco, yellow dust, white storms and the harmattan.

Dust storms can be a matter of concern because they pose an extreme risk to human health.

Now let’s further discover how dust storm affects us and air quality.

How does dust storms affect air quality?

As described earlier, dust or sand storms collect a vast amount of sand and dust particles dispersed thousands of miles away. As a result, dust storms create particulate pollution. Particulate pollution consists of particulate matter (PM), namely PM2.5 and PM10.

Particulate pollution caused due to dust storms makes the air quality worst. The air surrounding you becomes dusty, hazy and solid yellowish in appearance. High levels of particulate matter considerably block sun lights coming to the Earth. Such type of air leads to poor visibility.

Such visual pollution leads to road accidents and delays, and scheduling of flights. It can badly affect logistics and supply and chain management. Severe levels of dust storms can lead to economic losses. Here’s how it can make your money fly from your pocket. Flight delays or scheduling can force you to lose or shell extra dollars.

Your expected favourite items may not be delivered on time or may be cancelled. Your local authorities can declare a one-day emergency in your area. And eventually, a one-day lockdown can affect share markets and economic losses of a day. Low visibility and poor air quality can lead to dryness and irritation in the eyes. It can give you extra mental stress.

According to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), dust or sand storms have a significant socio-economic effect on human health, agriculture, industry, transportation, and water quality. In addition, such meteorological hazards can disperse pathogens such as meningitis and valley fever. On a global scale, around 334 million people and 14% of the world’s children suffer from asthmatic systems.

However, in some cases, humans can also be responsible for dust storms. The most and catastrophic ecological disaster in American History can be traced back to the 1930s. Historians and researchers claim that The Great Plains Dust Bowl was a combination of man-made and natural events. The regions were suffering from intense heatwaves and prolonged droughts.

This was further fueled by decades of land mismanagement. As the dust storms became massive and intense, children developed deadly dust pneumonia. Business owners who were already suffering due to the Great Depression were forced to suicide and mass exodus. Environmentalists estimated that around 7000 people were killed, and 2 million were left homeless. Wheat and maize production decreased by 36% and 48%, respectively.

Coming to the health effects of poor air quality, the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared PM2.5 as carcinogenic. These microscopic particles, when inhaled, get deeply penetrated your lungs. These pollutants hook to your lung tissues. They also can absorb into your bloodstream. As a result, this process affects your body from head to toe. You would be at risk of various respiratory ailments, cardiovascular diseases, mental disorders, etc. The detailed effects are explained below:

What are the health effects of air pollution?

Environmental studies have proved that PM2.5 and PM10 have caused relevant harm to public health. Both pollutants can deeply penetrate inside your lungs. PM2.5 can enter your bloodstream, which results in various respiratory and cardiovascular ailments. It can also affect other organs. WHO has declared these two pollutants as carcinogenic elements.

The detailed adverse effects on human health are as follows:

  • Respiratory ailments: COPD, asthma, bronchitis, whooping cough, common cold and cough, throat infection, lung cancer, chest congestion, sinus congestion, etc. 
  • Cardiovascular diseases: Heart attack, cardiac arrest, chest pain, heart blockage, stroke, etc. 
  • Mental disorders: Anxiety, insomnia, depression, low productivity, irritation, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, dementia, brain stroke, paralysis, etc.

The other effects of air pollution are low sperm counts, low reproductive ability, infertility and congenital infant disabilities.

What can I do to protect myself from air pollution?

I will elaborate on some of the measures to protect yourself from air pollution.

Personal Hygiene

You can also fight the effects of air pollution by maintaining personal hygiene:

  • You can cut your nails short to avoid the accumulation of dirt. 
  • You can also practice mouth gargling after coming home to free your mouth from unwanted guests.
  • You can also brush twice a day to keep airborne infections at bay.
  • You can also take steam therapy at home to cleanse your lungs.

Quit Smoking

Smoking cigarettes, hookahs (shisha), electric vape or any other types of cigars are not at all suitable for your health. It’s best to stop smoking. Active and passive smoking provides the direct entry of harmful pollutants into your body. This causes the risk to your respiration and other organs dependent on it. 

Physical Exercise 

Physical activities have many benefits to your body. It not only improves your stamina and immunity levels but also helps to increase your lung capacity. Yoga, sanas, swimming, running, cycling, brisk walking and dancing are some of the best forms of exercise to improve your health.

Breathing Exercise 

The majority of people in the world don’t breathe properly. However, correct breathing techniques can keep illnesses due to air pollution at bay. A pranayama is a form of yoga asana which helps to improve breathing methods and lung functionality.

Some of the pranayama types that help you fight air pollution are Kapalbhati, Anulom Vilom, Chandra Nadi, Surya Nadi and Bhastrika. It is strongly recommended to learn this art of breath from a well-certified yoga trainer. 

You can also increase your lung muscles by simply taking a deep breath and holding it for a count of 10. Then, slowly breathe out the air. If you can keep your breath for a longer time, then you have good lungs health.

Good diet 

Always go for a well-balanced diet to remain fit and strong. Consistent eating of junk and fast food will increase the risk of obesity and other diseases. In addition, such people are more vulnerable to the adverse effects of air pollution. Instead, add more fresh veggies and fruits to your diet. Also, you can consume less meat to minimise carbon footprints.

You can also add anti-inflammatory foods as these types of food help to cleanse your lungs effectively. Anti-inflammatory foods which I recommend are: 

Immunity booster drinks

You can do your immunity booster drinks by using readily available items in your kitchen. Immunity booster drinks help to cleanse your lungs. Some of the DIY immunity booster drinks are as follows:

  • Take a glass of warm white milk. Add half a teaspoon of turmeric powder to it. Also, add two strands of saffron to it. Drink it at night before sleeping. You will get good sleep, and you will be relieved from chest congestion. 
  • Boil water by adding half cinnamon stick. Drink the spice-infused water once a day. Your sinuses would be cleared up. 
  • Buy an excellent green tea. Prepare a green tea by following the packet instructions. Have it whenever you feel irritation in your throat. 
  • Take some crushed 1 or 2 peppercorns, a half-inch of a blade of lemongrass and 1 inch of grated ginger and half a teaspoon of turmeric powder. Add everything in one glass of boiling water and reduce it to half a glass. Drink two tablespoons of this spice-infused warm water every after three hours. Adding honey is optional. 
  • You can also drink warm water and add honey if you want. Honey helps to relieve throat irritation.

Use Mask

Mask can prevent you from inhaling the polluted air. You would be able to work in contaminated areas without any fear of allergy infections and stress. 

Masks I recommend

Name Why I recommend it
BASE CAMP CROSSDUST MASKEAPI Filter Technology & Advanced NanotechnologyUser FriendlyMore Durable Six layers face maskFilter materials of the dust mask: Double-Layer Melt-blown with Electrostatic Adsorption Performance, Activated carbon, Non-woven Polypropylene
NIOSH approved N95 maskFour layers mask Flexible nose pad, dual strapsDisposable maskEasy to breathe
BASE CAMP Reusable Cloth Face MaskThree layers mask; 100% cotton Skin-friendly and breathablePocket to add additional filterReusable Mask

How can I individually reduce air pollution?

You can always try your level best to minimise air pollution. The following are the methods to reduce air pollution at an individual level.

Plant Trees

Encourage tree plantation drives amongst the communities. You can be a green saviour of your region. Trees are the natural air purifiers of the environment, and it supplies us with clean air.

Municipal councils or the local authorities can develop urban forests to increase the green cover of the locality. They can also plan to create vertical green walls to improve oxygen levels of the region naturally. But don’t forget to plant only indigenous trees. 

Human/ religious celebrations in eco-friendly ways 

Nowadays, many couples celebrate gender (of their baby) revealing parties by bursting firecrackers. But, unfortunately, these firecrackers can transform into massive wildfires if they are burst near trees.

Thus, you can celebrate such celebrations by planting trees in your nearby barren land. Bursting firecrackers on any religious, festive or personal occasion are only going to harm your loved ones. 

You can also celebrate Christmas by not cutting Christmas Trees. Instead, you can buy artificial ones and use them in the coming years too.

Discourage Plastic

Single-use plastic has been one of the major concerns in the environment. Plastic pollution indirectly contributes to the degradation of air quality. Plastic, when burned, releases various toxic gases such as dioxins into the air.

Encourage alternative use of the plastic product. For example, you can wear a cloth bag for shopping. You can also carry your travel cutlery set to a restaurant. Additionally, you can take your water bottle instead of purchasing a packaged drinking water bottle every time.

Use of public transportation 

Increase the use of public transport to reduce air pollution and traffic congestion. You can also try carpooling or the cab sharing option. Then, you can also use bicycles instead of scooters. Lastly, you can always opt for walking a shorter distance. 

Alternative use of fossil fuel

It would be best to try switching to other fuel alternatives. For example, don’t use wood for the fireplace. Instead, you can wear multiple layers of clothes for warmth. In this way, you can conserve energy. Additionally, you can also install solar panels on house roofs to convert solar energy into electricity. 

You can also buy electric and hybrid vehicles to minimise tailpipe emissions. Finally, propose or discuss a plan with your mayor or any relevant local authority to promote your region’s renewable energy sector.

Reduction of personal carbon footprints

You can also keep a check on your carbon footprints. For example, you can delete unwanted photos, videos or emails from clouds and email boxes as and when possible. Unfortunately, this unwanted stuff takes a lot of energy, which indirectly contributes to air pollution.

You can also switch off the lights and electrical appliances of the vacant rooms. Try buying local products instead of imported ones. Be vocal about them. You can also discover your own country rather than travelling to different ones.

Create Awareness

Air pollution is unpredictable; air pollution in your vicinity can affect people living in Asia and vice-a-versa. However, you can create public awareness about air pollution amongst your community by teaching and interacting with your kids about the importance of good air. 

Educate youth by telling them the ill effects of poor air quality. Then, let your country’s future know that they deserve a better place to live!

How can the local authorities improve the air quality of your region?

You can always observe the changes happening in your surrounding nature. If you experience bad air quality or any activities producing air pollution, you can always concern relevant local authorities or the mayor.

Here are some methods which local authorities can do.

Proper disposal of waste 

Improper solid waste management of an area is an invitation to many diseases and infections. In addition, burning solid waste in public can cause air pollution, although such practices are rare in the US. 

The wastes are mainly disposed of in the engineered landfills and recycled before final disposal to landfills and waste incinerators. 

In addition, waste incinerators help to convert waste into energy.

However, many researchers have claimed that gasification technology or waste-to-energy technology may release harmful gaseous contaminants. Thus, it is necessary that waste collectors rigorously segregate the waste before sending it to waste incinerators. 

The best solution is to minimise waste at a personal level. Statistically, 70% of the waste generated can be recycled effectively. Thus, strive to recycle your waste at a personal level as much as possible.

Reducing air pollution from agriculture

Stubble burning is still practised in some parts of the US. This event contributes to the degradation of air. Local authorities can help farmers convert this waste into cattle fodder or be transformed into pellets as fuel. In addition, farmers should stop the usage of harmful pesticides or fertilisers to decrease air pollution.

How can I reduce indoor air pollution?

Maintaining household or indoor hygiene

You can decrease poor air quality by adequately maintaining indoor hygiene. For example, you can frequently clean your cupboards and open decks to avoid an accumulation of dust particles. You can then vacuum your carpets and sofas at least twice a week. 

Make sure your doggies and cats are well-groomed. Use chimneys and exhaust fans in kitchens. You can also install an exhaust fan in washrooms. Always make sure you are keeping your house well ventilated. 

Keep doors and windows open when possible. Maintain the health of electric appliances such as heaters, humidifiers, AC, fans, air ducts and so on at regular intervals of the year. Avoid overuse of strong perfumes or strong scented candles indoors. You can additionally use indoor plants to make your indoors more lively and fresh.

Indoor plants

Indoor plants do the same work as outdoor ones- they help to purify indoor air naturally. These indoor plants are also easy to maintain.

The indoor plants which I recommend are as follows: 

Air purifiers

Air purifiers help to improve indoor air quality. The risk of getting air pollution-related diseases decreases due to the use of air purifiers. Air purifiers having good HEPA filters do an adequate job of filtering pollutants.

Air Purifiers I recommend are as follows:

NameWhy I recommend it
Blueair Pro XL Air Purifier99.7% of airborne pollutants such as mould, allergens, smoke particles and pollens are captured. 
AIRMEGA 400SReduction of 99.97% of particulates of 0.3 microns. Also responsible for reducing more than 99% of VOCs, NH3 and CH3CHO.Washable and permanent pre-filters are available 
Blueair Pure 121Includes 3-part filtration system. Captures 99% of common airborne PM 2.5 pollutants such as allergens, odours, smoke, mould spores, dust mites and pet dander.An activated carbon filter removes common odours caused by smoke, pets, and gases (VOCs) and smoke caused by wildfires.

Humidifiers

The humidity levels in the office should be maintained between 30 and 50% in the office. This range helps to keep dust mites, mould and other allergens under control. In addition, when AC or heater makes the air in the room dry, humidifiers can maintain correct humidity levels.

Humidifiers I recommend

Name Why I recommend it
Amazon Basics Ultrasonic Cool Mist Humidifier 4 litre of tank capacityAuto shut-off feature and 12 or 24-hour timer settingsIt can be used in both seasons
MOVTIP HumidifierPortable Mini-humidifier500 ml capacity, still produces longer mistsEasy to operate
LEVOIT HumidifierIt can be used for both seasons6 litres of capacity Easy to clean and has a remote control

Dehumidifiers 

Dehumidifiers also work similarly to humidifiers. It controls the high levels of humidity in the office.

Dehumidifiers I recommend

Name Why I recommend it
Pro Breeze DehumidifierCan extract 50 pints of moisture a dayEnergy-saving auto-off systemBuilt-in Humidity sensor
HOmeLabs DehumidifierEliminates moistness, odour controllerEasy to cleanRemovable water tank
TCL Portable Dehumidifier20 pints of moisture removed per dayIt can be operated at low temperatures tooEasy to maintain

Other FAQs about Air Quality that you may be interested in.

Does air quality affect dogs?

Does rain improve air quality?

Does Wearing a mask help with poor air quality?

Conclusion

In this blog post, we discussed “how do dust storms affect air quality?” Firstly, we talked about air pollution. Secondly, the article emphasized what dust storms and their process is. Thirdly, it also outlined the relation between a dust storm and air quality. In the end, the article provided solutions to decrease air pollution.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): How do dust storms affect air quality?

Do dust storms contribute to air pollution?

Yes, dust storms contribute to air pollution. High winds are generated to combine with dry land surface conditions, for example, dry areas like Utah, to form dust storms. These dust storms can develop high levels of particulate pollution.

How do dust storms affect the atmosphere?

Strong winds lift tremendous amounts of dust and sand particles from barren land into the atmosphere and transport them hundreds to thousands of miles away.

What are the effects of a dust storm?

Dust storms can cause visibility issues for airways and roadways, leading to delays and cancellations of decided journeys. Besides, breathing dusty air can cause health problems such as asthma.

What should you do if you are caught in a dust storm?

If you are stuck in a dust storm, immediately check the traffic surrounding your vehicle. After reviewing the traffic, slow down your vehicle speed. Avoid waiting until poor visibility makes it difficult to safely pull off the roadway—do it as soon as possible. If you are on the highway, exit it if you can.

How does dust storms affect humans?

Dust storms effect affects humans severely. The dust particles present in the dust storm can trigger allergic reactions such as asthma and disrupt lung functionality. It can also cause breathing-related severe issues and can be responsible for heart diseases.

How do you breathe in a dust storm?

Don’t venture out during a dust storm. Stay indoors as much as possible. Sensitive groups such as seniors, children and people with existing medical conditions should stay indoors. Close the windows, doors and vents. If you go outside, do wear a good quality mask that covers your mouth and nose adequately. In this way, dust will not enter your respiratory tract.

References

2021. Sand and Dust Storms Fact Sheet. [ebook] United Nations Environment Assembly. Available at https://uneplive.unep.org/media/docs/assessments/Sand_and_Dust_Storms_fact_sheet.pdf

Berardelli, J., 2021. A devastating Dust Bowl heatwave is now more than twice as likely, a study says. [online] Cbsnews.com. Available at https://www.cbsnews.com/news/dust-bowl-heat-wave-climate-change-twice-as-likely-study-says/#app 

Molloy, S. and Mihaltcheva, S., 2013. Extreme Weather Events. Climate Vulnerability, pp.3-16.

Und. int. 2021. Sand and dust storms | UNCCD. [online] Available at https://www.unccd.int/actions/sand-and-dust-storms 

World Meteorological Organization. 2021. Sand and Dust Storms. [online] Available at https://public.wmo.int/en/our-mandate/focus-areas/environment/SDS 

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