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Street dust

Street dust contains various particles that are harmful to health.

Basic information about street dust and its health risks

  • Street dust mainly consists of pulverised grit and road salt.
  • Street dust contains particles that are harmful to health.
  • Street-dust related respiratory symptoms include shortness of breath, excess mucus, cough, wheezing, and runny nose.
  • In the spring, street dust decreases the quality of outdoor air for a period of 3–6 weeks.

Street dust mainly consists of pulverised grit and road salt. Street dust contains various particles that are harmful to health. These particles include soot particles, soil particles, bacterial compounds, crushed plant parts, and materials that have fallen off vehicles.

In the spring, street dust decreases the quality of outdoor air for a period of 3–6 weeks. The exact duration varies across Finland.

Street dust-related respiratory symptoms include

  • shortness of breath
  • excess mucus
  • cough
  • wheezing
  • runny nose.

Street dust increases the need for medication. Street dust increases inflammation and pneumonia, which are particularly dangerous to people with respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.

Street dust is mainly made up of coarse particles. Coarse particles increase the risk of asthma among children.

Street dust also contains fine particles. The current understanding is that fine particles are the most harmful particle group. Fine particles are also the most significant environmental exposure agent affecting health. The risk of mortality and the risk of developing asthma both rise steadily as fine particle levels rise. Fine particles and street dust also find their way indoors.

For people with allergies, respiratory symptoms are further aggravated by the simultaneous appearance of airborne pollen and the flowering of birch, alder, and hazel.

How to protect yourself from street dust

  • Avoid problem areas during the worst road dust season. The most congested streets generate the most dust.
  • Install fine-particle filters in air intake vents and ventilation equipment at home, in your car, and at your workplace. Change the filters as instructed.
  • Avoid opening the windows. Install dust screens in ventilation windows. 
  • People with allergies and respiratory and heart conditions should keep their prescription reliever medication on hand whenever the air quality is low. You can alleviate irritation by moisturising the mucus membranes with appropriate sprays and drops.
  • Do not wear a respirator if you suffer from any of the following:
    • poorly controlled, moderate to severe asthma
    • COPD
    • chronic cardiovascular disease.

How to reduce street dust

Read more about the harmful health effects of street dust and the recommendations of the Organisation for Respiratory Health: It’s in the air: The Organisation for Respiratory Health in Finland’s programme for preparing for and reducing weather and climate risks (2019–2022).

What can you do?

  • Walk or cycle short distances. Avoid unnecessary car journeys – opt for public transport and carpooling instead.
  • Avoid busy roads and streets. Avoid driving during rush hour, especially in dry weather and during the worst road dust season.
  • Follow weather forecasts, so you know when to prepare for potential symptoms. If necessary, use a respiratory mask while you are outdoors.
  • Take more effective medication if you have a respiratory disease.
  • If you own a car, move it away from the street before street cleaning starts. Use friction tyres and drive defensively. Make sure that your vehicle’s fresh air filter is working properly.
  • Install fine-particle filters in fresh air intake vents and ventilation equipment at home, in your car, and at your workplace. Prevent street dust from entering indoor areas by changing vent filters regularly. Install filter screens in ventilation windows.
  • Avoid opening the windows during the street dust season, or open them less frequently.

What property owners and housing companies can do

  • Remove grit from the street while it is wet, or during snow removal.
  • Clean your own section of the street before the city’s cleaning trucks.
  • Avoid using leaf blowers for grit removal.
  • Avoid any unnecessary gritting of streets in winter.
  • Use washed, crushed stone for gritting.

What people responsible for street cleaning can do

  • Start cleaning the streets as soon as the weather permits.
  • Use water to prevent the formation of dust during grit removal.
  • If necessary, use calcium chloride as a ‘first-aid solution’ for dust prevention.
  • Schedule the cleaning project properly.
  • Provide financial support for street cleaning.
  • Wash the streets after grit removal.
  • Invest in winter-time snow and grit removal.
  • When gritting, target the locations that need it the most.
  • Use high-quality grit.

Protect babies and children from street dust

The health risks are same for children and adults. Street dust is linked to the onset of asthma. Children are usually more exposed to street dust than adults as they spend more time outdoors.

When taking babies and children outside, it is advisable to stay away from the most congested roads and streets. You can spend time in places like parks or forest trails, or by the lake or sea. In calm weather, street dust does not mix into the air.

When putting children down for a nap outdoors, it is advisable to avoid areas near busy streets during the worst street dust season. Yards and gardens are usually safe. At the moment, there are no respirators designed specifically for children.

For more information on street dust and respirators, visit the website of the National Institute for Health and Welfare.