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ARS Home » Plains Area » Lubbock, Texas » Cropping Systems Research Laboratory » Wind Erosion and Water Conservation Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #388666

Research Project: Optimizing Water Use Efficiency for Environmentally Sustainable Agricultural Production Systems in Semi-Arid Regions

Location: Wind Erosion and Water Conservation Research

Title: Health and safety effects of airborne soil dust in the Americas and beyond

item TONG, D - George Mason University
item BAKLANOV, A - World Meteorological Organization
item BARKER, BRIDGET - Northern Arizona University
item CASTILLO, JUAN - Pan American Health Organization
item GASSO, SANTIAGO - University Of Maryland
item GASTON, CASSANDRA - University Of Miami
item GILL, THOMAS - University Of Texas - El Paso
item HUNEEUS, NICOLAS - Universidad De Chile
item KAHN, RALPH - Nasa Goddard Institute For Space Studies
item Van Pelt, Robert - Scott

Submitted to: Reviews of Geophysics
Publication Type: Review Article
Publication Acceptance Date: 2/23/2023
Publication Date: 3/23/2023
Citation: Tong, D.Q., Baklanov, A., Barker, B.M., Castillo, J., Gasso, S., Gaston, C., Gill, T.E., Huneeus, N., Kahn, R.A., Van Pelt, R.S., et. all. 2023. Health and safety effects of airborne soil dust in the Americas and beyond. Reviews of Geophysics. 61(2).

Interpretive Summary: Airborne soil dust concentrations have been increasing in much of the Western Hemisphere during the first two decades of this century. Airborne dust poses a hazard to human and environmental health by physical damage to the respiratory system, transport of pathogenic bacteria and fungi, transport of chemical contaminants, transport of radioisotopes, disruption of transportation and causing visibility-related motor vehicle crashes, climate forcing, and early melting of snow packs. A USDA-ARS scientist along with an international team of 26 university faculty and scientists from other governmental organizations collected and reviewed the information regarding dust and its effects in the Western Hemisphere and reported the current state of knowledge in 2021.

Technical Abstract: The risks associated with dust hazards are often underappreciated, particularly so in the Americas. The body of knowledge regarding windblown dust in the Americas is rather fragmented, a gap between the knowledge pool and public awareness that can be costly for affected communities. This study reviews the emission sources and chemical, physical, and biological characteristics of airborne soil particles (dust) and their effects on human and environmental health and safety in the Pan-American region. American dust originates from both local sources (western United States, northern Mexico, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina) and from long-range transport from Africa and Asia. Human exposure to dust has been associated with adverse health effects, including asthma, allergies, fungal infections, and premature death. In the Americas, one of the most well-documented and striking effects of soil dust is its association with Coccidioidomycosis, commonly known as Valley fever, an infection caused by inhalation of soil-dwelling fungi unique to this region. Besides human health, dust also affects environmental health through providing nutrients that increase phytoplankton biomass, contaminating water supply and food (crops/fruits/vegetables and ready-to-eat meat), spreading crop and marine pathogens, causing Valley fever among domestic and wild animals, transporting heavy metals and radionuclides, and reducing solar power generation. Dust is also a well-documented hazard to road transportation, aviation, and marine navigation. To mitigate these harmful effects, coordinated regional and international efforts need to be made to enhance dust observations and prediction capabilities, implement soil conservation measures, design specific dust mitigation projects for transportation, and conduct disease surveillance.