Prof Ian Shaw on dangerous dust

Writing in the Press, University of Canterbury toxicology Professor Ian Shaw outlines the risk associated with dust thrown up by the ongoing rebuild in Christchurch.

Credit: Flickr/ Jocelyn Kinghorn

An excerpt (read in full here):

As we reshape our city and demolish a large number of buildings in the process we are creating a gritty, dusty environment that is becoming our accepted norm. Professor Ian Shaw explores the impact this new environment might have on our health.

Isn’t it strange? We have lived with dust for a very long time and all of a sudden it is apparently dangerous. But is it dangerous? If so, why are we only now taking it seriously?

A quick look at the evidence for dust being harmful and what it might do to us will set the scene. Asbestos dust has long been known to pose a significant risk to health because its small, sharp fibres can penetrate deep into the lungs causing irritation which can lead to asbestosis.

The irritation sets up an inflammatory response which results in fluid production which reduces the lungs’ efficiency. This causes the characteristic wheezy out-of-breathness associated with asbestosis.

The sharp asbestos fibres can penetrate still further by working their way through the lung tissue, eventually reaching the outer surface of the lung and causing uncontrollable division of the mesothelial cells, resulting in an incurable cancer called mesothelioma.

Keep reading…