Dust pollution in our environment

High levels of dust at the workplace not only impact on your employees, they can also impair your inventory and technical plant.

Here is a brief overview of the causes and consequences of dust pollution in our environment.

  • What kind of contaminants are there?
  • What statutory provisions/limit values apply for dust pollution?
  • What are the consequences/impact of high dust levels?
  • What damage and costs are associated with high dust levels?

High dust levels and their impact on health

On inhalation, air first enters the oral cavity or nose before moving into the airways, which then split  into two branches (technical term: bronchial tubes) that enter the right and left lung respectively. This is how air enters the air sacs (technical term: alveoli) that are responsible for the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide. According to various studies, higher levels of particulate matter, in particular of PM 2.5 (similar to A-dust), have been proven to lead to cause harm and illness, even if they are below the EU limit values.

  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Airways
  • Risk of asthma
  • Diabetes
  • Dementia

"There is no safe concentration threshold for particulate matter in the air.

Particulate matter is always harmful!"  (Quote/Federal Environment Agency) 

Information from the Federal Environment Agency about particulate matter indoors

Dust is a hazardous substance

Dust consists of all solid particles in the air. The health risk connected to dust pollution is defined depending on the particle size:

  • Settling particles (coarse dust)
  • Inhalable dusts (E-dust) and
  • Alveolar dust (A-dust, particulate matter) that penetrates deep into the alveoli.

Recently, attention has also focused on ultra-fine dust (0.1 µm, nanoparticles), although there are many factors (toxicology, explosiveness) that still need to be examined.

Dust usually comprises different organic and inorganic constituents.

Therefore, harm caused by dust depends on the 

  • size and form
  • the material characteristics and
  • particle concentration

For more information about dust and dust loads, please go to: Federal Environment Agency

Thresholds for dust at the workplace

Thresholds for dust (without any other material/toxic properties) are defined either for

  • (A-) alveolar or for the
  • (E-) inhalable dust fraction.

The technical guideline for hazardous substances (TRGS900) defines specific workplace thresholds (AGW/MAK) for dangerous/toxic substances, as well as thresholds for the above-mentioned A-dust and E-dust.

The current workplace threshold for A-dust is 1.25 mg/m³ and the current workplace threshold for E-dust is 10 mg/m³. Special threshold regulations apply for quartz dust, for amorphous silica and for fibres. 

Diseases of the airways, the lungs, the pleura and peritoneum

  Excerpt from the list of occupational diseases § 9 Par.1 Social Insurance Code VII


Diseases caused by inorganic dust

  • Quartz dust lung disease (silicosis)
  • Quartz dust lung disease in combination with active lung tuberculosis (silico-tuberculosis)
  • Asbestos dust pulmonary disease (asbestosis)
  • Mesothelioma of the pleura, of the peritoneum or of the pericardium caused by asbestos
  • Diseases of the deeper airways and of the lungs caused by aluminium or its compounds
  • Pulmonary fibrosis disease caused by metal dust during the production or processing of hard metals
  • Diseases of the deeper airways and the lungs caused by Thomas ground basic slag
  • Malignant new growths in the airways and lungs caused by nickel or its compounds
  • Malignant new growths in the airways and lungs caused by coking plant raw gas
  • Chronic obstructive bronchitis or emphysema in miners who work in coal mines
  • Lung cancer caused by crystalline silica Lung cancer caused by polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in case of evidence of exposure
  • Lung cancer caused by the interaction of asbestos fibre dust and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons
  • Pulmonary fibrosis caused by extreme and long-term exposure to welding fumes and welding vapours
  • Adenocarcinomas of the main nasal cavity or nasal sinuses caused by oak-wood or beech-wood dusts

Diseases caused by organic dust

  • Exogen-allergic alveolitis
  • Diseases of the deeper airways in the lungs caused by raw cotton, raw flax or raw hemp dusts (byssinosis)
  • Diseases and the follow-up costs
  • Cleaning costs
  • Faulty electronics and machines and their follow-up costs for continuous renewal.