Managing health risks in dusty environment

Report on the Result Dissemination Conference ‘Feasibility of Pharmacy-based Hypertension Care in Urban Lagos
January 5, 2018
Prof Akin Osibogun presenting, on behalf of the Centre for Epidemiology and Health Development a Lagos-based NGO
August 17, 2018

Managing health risks in dusty environment

With so much construction work and road rehabilitation going on in Lagos, there is so much dust everywhere. This condition is expected to last till all the construction works are completed. But before then, it is imperative that people, especially those living around these areas or who frequently ply these routes, take care that they don’t contract infections or come down with illnesses arising from dust inhalation.

Experts have always said dusty environment could be harmful to human health.

Consultant Public Health Physician/Epidemiologist at Lagos University Teaching Hospital, Professor Akin Osibogun, said dust particles contain substances that can have physical, chemical or biological effects on man, when inhaled.

He said: “The physical effects occur, when particles are deposited in lung tissue. And when inhaled over a period of time, the quantity may be sufficient to reduce the surface area of the lungs that is available to perform the normal function of the lung, which is to absorb oxygen for the body’s use. For example, physical deposits of sand particles in the lungs are seen among miners.”

He explained that the deposit of sand particles in the lungs results in a disease condition referred to as silicosis. The reduced availability of lung surface area results in insufficient supply of oxygen to the body, which is accompanied by chronic breathlessness and fatigue. Some dust particles also cause chemical irritation of lung tissue and the air passages and thus results in the inflammation of the tissue and air passages.

“The inflammation of the lung tissue and air passages is what we refer to as pneumonitis and bronchitis,” he said. “These conditions are accompanied by persistent coughing, which may be chronic or longstanding. Inflammation of lung tissue and air passages also reduces efficiency of the respiratory organs to absorb oxygen and, therefore, the affected persons will also show symptoms of breathlessness and easy fatigability.”

He further explained that dust particles could also serve as vehicles for conveying biologic agents that may cause such air-borne infections as tuberculosis and diphtheria, among others.

Another way in which dust particles may affect the health is by initiating immunologic reactions and this is important particularly in asthmatics.

“These immunologic responses result in narrowing of the airways in asthmatics, thereby reducing the volume of inhaled air, as well as creates an air hunger for the victims of the condition. The air hunger is seen physically as the difficulty in breathing and if severe, may be life-threatening,” he explained.

Osibogun, who was the immediate past Chief Medical Director, Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) said two other major factors that influence the effect of dust particles on man include, the particle sizes. The smaller particles are capable of penetrating as lower down as the lung alveoli (lung tissue), while the bigger particles often affect the trachea and bronchi (air passages).

It is also important to note the direction and speed of the wind, as these also determine whether the particles are being blown away from human settlement, thereby reducing the risk to man. The size of the particles in the dust may also mean that the bigger particles will not be able to travel far before dropping to the ground.

To reduce the risks inherent in exposure, the public health expert advised that people should avoid dust- generating activities or environments, and if they have to be in such environments, they should use personal protective devices such as facemasks.

He said: “There are different grades of face masks, depending on the quantity of dusts being generated and the level of risk identified. In the workplace, a dusty procedure may be substituted with a less dusty one or the workers must be mandated to use personal protective devices.”

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