Protecting Yourself from the Air Pollution During Dust Storms

Air pollution during a dust storm

You don’t have to live near a desert to be affected by dust and sandstorms. 

It takes a combination of strong winds and dry land to create the perfect storm. 

In fact, Illinois experienced a recent dust storm that resulted from a strong wind that blew over the loose agricultural soil. It clouded the air so much that visibility was nearly at zero and caused a serious traffic accident. And that’s not all.

The effects of sand and dust storms also increase levels of Particulate Matter (PM2.5) in the air. This can put you at risk of developing lung and heart diseases.  

Today, we’ll discuss air pollution and dust storms together with tips on how to protect yourself from it. 

Air Pollution and Dust Storms 

In the 1930s, the United States experienced one of the worst dust storms in its history. The air quality was so bad that day felt like night and snow-like dust filled the streets. By the end of the dust storm, an estimated 7,000 people had died. 

This phenomenon was when the term Dust Bowl was coined. And although it was almost 100 years ago, scientists say that it's 2.5x more likely to happen again. Data is already showing that the number of dust storms has doubled in the past decade.  

As dust storms become more frequent, the air quality will continue to worsen. Aside from dust and debris, dust storms carry along other toxins, particulate matter, and a million other air pollutants.

In fact, after a sandstorm: 

  • Carbon monoxide increases by 84% 
  • Fine particulate matter by 76% 
  • Ozone by 40% 
  • Nitrogen dioxide by 12% 

Worse, dust storms that are mainly composed of PM2.5 can last for more than 10 days. That’s because the particulate is lighter and takes longer to settle. In comparison, dust storms with particlulates bigger than 10 micrometers only last a few hours. As such, dust storms with high levels of fine particulate matter expose people to more health risks. 

Health Effects of Dust Storms 

Dust storms can do more damage than irritate your eyes and throat. They can also contribute to the following diseases: 

  • Angina 
  • Ischemic heart disease 
  • Asthma
  • Pneumonia 
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease 
  • Athero-thrombotic brain infarction 
  • Stroke 
  • Epilepsy
  • Diabetes 
  • Conjunctivitis 
  • Premature and pre-term births  
  • Cardiovascular and pulmonary diseases  
  • Early death 

Other than these, dust and sandstorms can also carry deadly infectious diseases. One of these is meningococcal meningitis, which damages the brain and spinal cord. It has even caused 100,000 deaths in Sahel, Africa—the highest in the world. 

How to Protect Yourself During Dust Storms 

While we can't prevent dust storms, we can take action to minimize its impact on our health. Here are 5 steps you can take to protect yourself: 

  • #1 – Stay Indoors. Limit your outdoor activities as much as possible, so you don’t breathe in the dust and particles in the air. 
  • #2 – Use air filters or air purifiers. When indoors, keep your windows, doors, and ventilators closed. Then, use air filters or purifiers to ensure that your air at home has as little air pollutants as possible. You can also create a clean room similar what you might do for wildfires. 
  • #3 – Wear an N95 mask or industry-approved respirator. If you need to go outside, wear a dust mask or respirator that is approved by experts. This way, you filter out the particles and pollutants in the air. 
  • #4 – Keep windows closed in cars. When you’re driving a car, it’s important to keep your windows closed to prevent dust from entering the vehicle. 
  • #5 – Pay attention to air quality alerts. The air pollutants brought by dust storms can continue to linger in the air after the fact. That’s why it’s important to watch out for air quality alerts and pay attention to your air quality monitors. You can also view real-time air quality maps to know the air quality in different communities and cities. 

Increasing dust storms are worsening the current air quality problem. It brings more pollutants into the air, making it harder to breathe. But with the right tools and knowledge, we can take the right steps to protect ourselves from it. 

Worried About Your Air Quality?  

Monitor the particulate Matter levels around the world with our free, real-time PurpleAir Map or join PurpleAir's mission to make air quality data accessible to everyone by investing in an air quality monitor for your home.  

Together, we can be informed and make changes in our daily habits and the community to improve air quality.