Lungs are the essential organs that enable us to breathe, bringing in oxygen from the atmosphere into the body and then exchanging it for carbon dioxide. As such, our lungs are extremely sensitive to what we breathe in and if that contains dust and other, our lungs can get damaged.
Our lungs do have a defence mechanism and are able to remove dust particles from our respiratory system. However, if exposure is significant and over long periods of time, damage in the form of lung diseases can occur.
When we breathe in dust, dust particles enter the nose with some not reaching the lungs at all. Noses are effective filters with most big particles stopping here, often forced out through sneezing or blowing our noses.
Smaller particles are able to pass down into the windpipe and the air tubes leading to the lungs called the bronchi and bronchioles. Mucus-producing cells entrap most of the dust and little hairs called cilia move the mucus up towards the throat, to be coughed up, swallowed or spat out.
Any particles small enough to avoid these defences thus far, make it to the inner part of the lungs in small air sacs called alveoli. These important sacs are how the body absorbs the oxygen it needs.
Dust consists of solid particles of varying sizes which are either organic or inorganic. Inorganic dust can come from minerals like rock or soil and metal grinding. Inorganic dust includes asbestos, coal and silica.
Organic dust comes from animals or plants. The production of grain is one example of how organic dust is created. This type of dust also includes things like fungi, microbes or toxins released from microbes.
How the respiratory responds, depends a great deal on where the dust settles. Dust in the nose can lead to rhinitis. Dust in the larger air passages can lead to inflammation of the trachea or bronchitis. The worst reactions occur when dust settles in the deepest parts of the lungs. Dust that evades all the previous defences will end up in the sacs or at the end of the airways.
For workers in dusty environments, it’s highly important to protect their airways as much as possible. Controls must be in place to avoid respiratory problems. Such controls might include:
Using wet cleaning and vacuuming and not dry sweeping
Keeping the dust-producing activities enclosed under a negative air pressure system
Dust containing air to be exhausted through a dust collection system before emission into the atmosphere. For quality components for dust removal systems, like a Spiral Duct, visit Dust Spares.
Proper storage and transport
Controlled dangerous waste disposal
Use of personal protective equipment where required. This should always be used as a last resort and is no substitute for proper and effective dust control methods.