September 3, 2014

Dust: it’s worth giving it more than a surface look.

It seems that Russia, by far the world’s biggest producer of chrysotile (white) asbestos, is also by far the biggest producers of white lies as far as the dangers in that material are concerned. Canada, India, Brazil, China and Zimbabwe still export this poison despite the dangers. It is a fine dust and just one fibre can kill. But try telling that to the Russians who make a billion dollars annually from its massive mines in the town of Asbest (near Ekaterinburg, the site of the death of the last Czar and his family). In Asbest, they say that the substance is ‘natural’ and preferable to synthetic building materials. Yet their cancer rate is very high in that town of around 80,000 people.

It occurred to me that we take dust for granted and while the E.P.A. does measure pollutants in the air, it may be time for households and workplaces to raise awareness of the kinds of chemicals we could be breathing. There has to be some reason (other than increased longevity in the human race) for the spikes in cancers, right?

Where I live, there is little industry. Thus, one would assume, there would be no air pollution.

Not so. Cars are not controlled for their emissions. There’s a cursory look at the gushing exhaust pipes when you buy a car. But not afterwards. I see trucks and cars billowing fumes every time I am on the road and along the highways there is a plume of pollution which stands out in staggering contrast to the rest of the air. Oh, that is, until it mixes with the burning bonfires of vegetation and plastic bottles, rubber, dead animals and whatever else people can’t be bothered picking up. All in all, though, the air is probably cleaner than most cities as the heavy metal content is low. Not that I
can measure it.

But I have noticed that I feel healthier in this town without industry. Headaches are seldom, sleep is great (except when there is a party nearby when the noise pollution puts paid to any sleep).

Anecdotally, therefore, the lack of city pollution seems to be working like magic. Dust is another matter. We live next door to a farm and the cattle paddocks (corrals) are no better than dust bowls. I wish they would rotate the animals around some of the vegetation in the back paddocks but hey, life in a hammock is easier than caring for animals properly. I know they are well fed but I stress about the dust that gets kicked up and the whiff of manure comes over here from time to time. The dust creeps into every corner and I wash the floors often and continually dust down the
flywire screens and blinds. If Julia Gillard could invent a truly dust-repellent gadget or chemical, she would get my vote despite her flat, adenoidal voice and ridiculous lack of eyebrows.

Anything that has a diameter of less than 500 micrometres fits into the category of ‘dust particle’. Now I am not going to measure the grit that flies in the windows here, but let’s say it is dust. And let’s say I am in Melbourne. (I’m not, but any city with public transport on rails will do). You can bet that somewhere in the dust there is a tonne of metal particles from the rails. Add to this the chemical fallout from factories and you will be breathing in some heavy metals indeed. The particles of human skin cast off all day every day makes up a massive percentage of indoor dust,
providing food for dust mites. There will also be pollens to feed allergies, dust mite excretions and then, of course, there will be the carcinogenic residue from people who still are silly enough to smoke.

It all adds up to ‘dust’. Look through a microscope and you will see scary critters in there moving around!

You will certainly see fibres from textiles, plants and unknown sources. You may also see evidence of insects and arthropods (spider, mites, ticks, etc.). Household insulation and foam backing from carpets are also common as are fibres from building materials even including asbestos.

It is definitely worth keeping the dust level down.  Don’t use a feather duster. Preferably do it with a vacuum cleaner, suck it up and compost it.

If you are finding that you or anyone in your family are beset with irritation, coughs, asthma etc. have a go at wearing a fine dust mask the way they do in Japan when they have colds or flu. See whether this improves things. It could be that you are just allergic to the dust in your house. Have your mattress steam cleaned and air it well on a hot, sunny day on each side. Buy a cotton mattress overlay and wash it regularly. If you have air-conditioners, clean the filters once a season. If you have an open fireplace, chimney sweeping is an annual must and you need to install a flue to prevent the particles escaping and adding to the world’s dust.

Remember that the static electricity in things like your electronic devices (eg. The television screen) attract dust so wipe these over with a damp cloth regularly. Clean the tops of doors,
fridge, high wardrobes and cupboards the same way. Don’t just swirl the dust into the air with a feather duster! If you have Venetians, hang them outside from a tree and hose them down with a car cleaning brush attachment. You will water the garden at the same time.

Dust is increasing as we deplete our forests. Gum trees, alas, add to the dust problem in the city areas. Leave them in the bush. Choose trees that can have gardens or lawn planted beneath as lawns are a great way to control dust and heat (despite all the nay-sayers who want us to dig them out and replace them with cactus and pebbles).

Happy dusting!

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