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Could it be the dust making you sick?

By Vision Reporter

Added 21st January 2015 04:35 PM

Uganda is generally dusty, and it gets worse with the dry season. There is dust everywhere, from untarmacked roads, excavation sites, dugout trenches, and other open places.

Could it be the dust making you sick?

Uganda is generally dusty, and it gets worse with the dry season. There is dust everywhere, from untarmacked roads, excavation sites, dugout trenches, and other open places.

By Paul Wetaya

Uganda is generally dusty, and it gets worse with the dry season. There is dust everywhere, from untarmacked roads, excavation sites, dugout trenches, and other open places.

Even those staying in the plushiest suburbs around the capital city have not been spared the dust pollution.

Ali Halage, a public health expert at the Makerere University School of Public Health, says exposure to soil dust negatively impacts human health. “Dust is recognised for its potential to affect human health. Dust may seem like a mild problem compared to other pollutants, but the small particulate matter it contains can be dangerous.

The dust in some areas in Kampala is at dangerous levels. It exposes many residents to dust-related illnesses such as heart stress, asthma, chronic bronchitis, hay fever, cancer, heart disease, allergic alveolitis and other non-respiratory illnesses,” Halage explains.

“People exposed to high particle levels of dust suffer reduced lung function. Individuals with cardiovascular and lung disease are at a higher risk. Even healthier people will bear the brunt of problems such as irritation of the eyes, sore throat, shortness of breath, chest discomfort and unusual fatigue,” adds Halage.

The World Health Organisation says environmental hazards are responsible for about 24% of the world’s total burden of disease, including more than one million deaths. Dust is of particular concern because it is linked to widespread occupational lung diseases such as pneumoconiosis, an occupational and restrictive lung disease, caused by the inhalation of dust.

Dusty conditions are also linked to meningococcal meningitis, a dangerous condition known to inflame the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord.

Uganda suffered an outbreak of meningococcal meningitis in the West Nile sub-region in 2013; five deaths were reported.

According to the World Meteorological Organisation, two billion people worldwide are directly affected by dust because they live on 34% of the earth’s land surface.

Dr. Ronnie Musinguzi of the Natete Archdeaconry Clinic, says the atmospheric transportation of dust provides a pathway for bacteria, molds and fungi.

“Over 10,000 microbes are transported in windblown dust. Windblown soil particles are carriers of toxic and cancer causing materials like lead. Frequent exposure to dust heightens the burden of cardiovascular, lung, metabolic and respiratory illnesses such as asthma and bronchial tubes.

When inhaled often, dust particles will cause or exacerbate conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, constrictive bronchitis, chest pains, abnormal heart beat, coughing, sleep disorders, wheezing and runny noses,” Musinguzi says.

Causes of increasing levels of dust

Environmentalist Yusuf Omoding says dust emissions around Kampala are caused by a combination of weather conditions, deforestation, tillage of soils unable to support plant life, human activities like construction and high winds that raise large amounts of dust from areas of dry, loose and exposed soil.

“Dust is an environmental concern. Kampala’s dry soils have been disturbed by never ending human activity, principally construction projects and untarmacked roads. When wind erosion occurs, surface soils are blown off untarmacked roads and other dust sources.

This usually creates a visibility problem. Runoff soils from construction projects also often block the city’s drainage systems,” Omoding says.

He adds that high vehicle speeds, to a large extent, have also contributed to the soaring levels of dust around the city.

A street in Kampala overcast by a cloud of dust. The hot season means the bad roads become so dusty, causing respiratory problems for some people

How can we reduce the dust problem?

With phased development, the problem can be nipped in the bud.

At present though, there are lots of counterproductive human activities that make this next to impossible.

 “Soil disturbances during unplanned road, trench and house construction only worsens the problem,” Omoding says.

Man-made sources of dust need to be controlled. Road construction and land excavation needs to be done in a proper way so that dust is not spawned, Omoding says.

Wearing any type of covering over one’s nose and mouth during dry dusty conditions can help ward off dust particles. Small dust particles are the most dangerous, so staying out of the dust can be the best solution, Halage says.

The other wise thing to do, Halage says, is to stay out of dusty areas.

“Restricting the movement of heavy trucks on the city’s roads is one measure that should be enforced. It will guarantee less damage to most of the city’s road surfaces. Regular water spraying operations can also help reduce the dust levels in some areas,” Omoding says.

If most of the drivers in the city can learn to lower the speed levels of their vehicles in dusty areas, it will come in really handy. “Reducing speed levels in dusty areas from 40 miles per hour to 30 miles per hour, for example, can lessen dust emissions in the city,” Omoding says.

The authorities should also give priority to the idea of adding surface gravel on most of the city’s untarmacked roads to help reduce the dust. Tarmacking all roads, fixing the drainage systems and fixing the city’s potholes will be of paramount importance in warding off dust, Omoding explains.

Emphasis on the usage of unleaded petrol for the many vehicles plying Kampala dusty roads can markedly reduce on lead pollution in Kampala.

“In doing so, we shall be protecting our children and pregnant women against many unpleasant health conditions caused by lead poisoning.

Lead poisoning plays havoc with a child’s mental and physical development. To keep children safe, talk them out of playing from dusty playgrounds. It is also wise to green one’s surroundings,” Omoding says.

Who is more at risk of dust-related illnesses?

Children are particularly at risk because their developing bodies are vulnerable to toxic exposure. Lead found in dust is one of the most potent neurotoxins and is particularly harmful to children. Its inhalation or ingestion often leads to attention deficit disorders, hearing impairment and mental incapacitation. Once exposed, children may also develop skin rashes, blisters and lumps in the chest. Because of their playful nature, children unknowingly ingest dust and its toxins from playgrounds and household dust,” Musinguzi says.

Pregnant women too are at a high risk of lead poisoning as a result of exposure to contaminated dust.

Once the lead in dust crosses a pregnant woman’s placenta, it puts the unborn baby at a high risk of brain damage. The unborn baby is also likely to suffer from severe nervous system disorders when born, Musinguzi adds.

When inhaled in large amounts, the elderly are also at risk. Dust dust may aggravate cardiovascular diseases that manifest in old age.

Construction workers, those who exercise outdoors, individuals with pre-existing respiratory diseases such as asthma, bronchitis and heart disease are at a high risk as well, Musinguzi says.



Could it be the dust making you sick?

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