Beyond the Novel: CCC.1 – What is “Dust”?

There is a beguiling chapter on dust in the fourth edition (1980) of Deserts on the March by Paul B. Sears. It reads as follows:


Long before the days of the microscope and the chemical balance, it was understood that dust is the beginning and the end of all things. Dust is always in the air we breathe, an invisible world of tiny, buoyant particles, infinitely rich in is variety, and with laws of its own. While most people think of it as being only minute bits of earth stirred up by strong air currents, it contains a host of living organisms, bacteria, molds, pollen, animals, as well as fragments of material from larger plants and animals. Except perhaps in air newly washed by rains, these particles float about perpetually sustained by gentle drifts in the atmosphere of which the human senses are scarcely aware….

Merriam-Webster defines “dust” as “fine particles of matter (as of earth)” and as “the particles into which something disintegrates”. To raise awareness that dust is more than just something to dismiss as common, one must realize that dust is often dangerous to one’s health.

In chapter three of Choir of Cloistered Canaries, the heroine epidemiologist gave dust a different interpretation as follows:

She watched the tiny dust particles that floated silently through the beams of light as she kicked off the blanket and coverlet. Making more dust particles to dance in the air, the epidemiologist focused on what is actually dust:  airborne particulate matter (PM) and an air pollutant en masse…dead skin from previous guests, other solid particles, and liquid droplets from aerosol sprays that living organisms breathe. What she saw was only what the naked eyes could see; other PM required an electron microscope. One thing was certain—venetian blinds were great collectors of PM missed by an ostrich feather.

Much has been written about PM. Here are a few examples.

Of particular concern is how to limit diesel particulate matter from drifting into nearby neighborhoods as diesel trucks drove other routes—such as neighborhood streets—to avoid the freeway during construction.— oregonlive,com 2 June 2020

Already, data has shown that cities are recording much lower levels of harmful microscopic particulate matter known as PM 2.5, and of nitrogen dioxide, which is released by vehicles and power plants.— Amy Woodyatt, CNN, 12 May 2020

Boland is a project system engineer developing the MAIA instrument, the Multi-Angle Imager for Aerosols that will characterize particulate matter in air pollution.— Ashley Strickland, CNN, 1 May 2020

Another air pollutant of concern is particulate matter, microscopic airborne particles of dust or soot that linger in the air, often from burning fossil fuels.— Dennis Pillion |, al, 26 Apr. 2020

The researchers found that, on a long term basis, an increase in the average concentration of particulate matter of one microgram per cubic meter led to a 15 percent higher death rate from the new coronavirus.— Ula Chrobak, Popular Science, 22 Apr. 2020

One of the biggest reasons for drug recalls is particulate contamination, or invisible matter found in the drug containers.— Lawrence Ganti, Forbes, 18 Jan. 2022

Fine particulate matters of diameters smaller than 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5) have been identified as the fifth-highest risk factor for global mortality.— Julia Jacobo, ABC News, 12 Jan. 2022

Now, suddenly, the V.A. had swung abruptly to align with the department’s most vocal critics, openly acknowledging that respiratory disease was a likely result of airborne particulate [chemicals] exposure during deployment.— New York Times, 11 Jan. 2022

Coal, which produces sooty, particulate-laden pollution, is responsible for half of those deaths, while natural gas and oil are responsible for the other half.— Tim De Chant, Ars Technica, 16 Dec. 2021

Each dryer would include a wet scrubber, a filtration method to control or reduce particulate emissions.— Keith Matheny, Detroit Free Press, 5 Sep. 2021

But instead of fertilizer being churned into the earth and its phosphorus binding to the soil in a particulate form, the pellets now sit like a crust on top of uncultivated fields.—, 2 Sep. 2021

Particulate matter, unfortunately, is inhaled and can cause serious health problems. It can even get into the bloodstream, not just into the lungs. The finest PM (less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter) pose the greatest risks. Nonetheless, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) easily attach to a “dust particle” to cause health problems, especially those that are derived from petroleum. For example, each spritz of perfume contains chemical vapors known as “volatile organic compounds (VOCs).” Once sprayed, the VOCs react with sunlight and other chemicals in the atmosphere to form ozone pollution, according to NOAA, and can damage one’s health.  As defined by the FDA, fragrance is a combination of chemicals that gives each perfume or cologne (including those used in other products) its distinct scent. Many artificial fragrance ingredients are often derived from petroleum because it is cheaper than natural raw materials.

The environmental issues occur because the chemical vapors react with sunlight to form ozone pollution. They also react with other chemicals in the atmosphere to form particulates in the air, which can cause damage to people’s lungs.

So here is the punchline to all fragrance toxic:

Artificial fragrances are highly toxic. Fragrances commonly contain phthalates, which are chemicals that help the scents last longer. Health risks for phthalates are startling and include cancer, human reproductive and developmental toxicity, endocrine disruption, birth defects, and respiratory problems.

The blogger’s heartfelt advice is:  First, do no harm to yourself and to others. Then, stop enabling manufacturers’ desire to maximize profits. Stay away from artificial, toxic matter found in household goods, clothing, laundry products, colognes, air fresheners, and the like. Now that “clean” is a marketing term to fool your senses.

For additional information:


The twenty-first century phenomenon about dust is more swingeing: microplastic polution. We are now experiensing polymer particles in the blood. The latest research, published in the journal Environmental International, detecte4d such particles, as small as 0.0007 mm, can contain two or three types of plastic. Researches are concerned that these microplastics cause damage to human cells and cause millions of early deaths a year. To reduce contacting/ ingesting, avoid PET plastic used in drinks bottles and avoid packaging food and other products that contain polystyrene!

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