Dangerous Saharan dust amid COVID-19

Editorial

Dangerous Saharan dust amid COVID-19

Friday, June 26, 2020

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Just about a year ago Environmental Health News reported that scientists have been trying to determine whether climate change will impact the annual Saharan dust flow across the globe.

The scientists, according to the report, were engaged in the study due to the impact Saharan dust can have on weather and health in places near and far from the Sahara desert. As such, the researchers, we were told, were running powerful computer models with the hope of getting a better idea of what to expect, because “tilting the scales either way on dust amounts could affect the surrounding areas in myriad ways”.

We are not yet privy to any new findings by the scientists, however, we note that experts have said the size and concentration of this year's dust has been the largest seen in half a century.

The massive billowing cloud of desert dust stretched more than 4,000 miles across the Atlantic early on Tuesday, reducing visibility from the Leeward Islands to the Greater Antilles.

Weather experts were reported as saying that the dust could cover the Yucatán Peninsula and western Gulf of Mexico, with even parts of the Mississippi Valley, Tennessee Valley, and the south-east USA expected to encounter a dusty shroud over this weekend.

The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration explained that the mass of extremely dry and dusty air, known as the Saharan Air Layer, forms over the Sahara Desert and moves across the North Atlantic every three to five days from late spring to early fall, peaking in late June to mid-August. It can occupy a roughly two-mile thick layer in the atmosphere.

Experts, who nicknamed the event the “Godzilla dust cloud”, have warned people, especially those with respiratory illnesses, to stay indoors and use air filters if they have one.

The advice is not without good reason, as the World Health Organization (WHO) has told us that environmental pollution from particulate matter is responsible for an estimated 1.4 per cent of all deaths worldwide. In fact, the WHO regards the effects of air pollution as a pressing global health priority.

We know that public health officials are particularly worried about the dust from the Sahara because it has been found to be the largest contributor to mineral dust — a major component of particulate matter — in the atmosphere.

Indeed, Environmental Health News has reported that scientists in the medical community have found a respirable component in Saharan dust that has led them to link it with asthma, overall mortality, cardiovascular disease, and a range of infectious diseases. They have, however, cautioned that the evidence is inconsistent, as such there is need for more in-depth research.

But, even as we await the findings of further research, there is no doubt that this dust is dangerous to our health. And while we are unable to stop it from affecting our weather, we can adopt measures to protect ourselves.

We suspect that the size and concentration of this year's dust cloud is a result of climate change and should serve as a reminder to mankind that we cannot allow our focus on combating the novel coronavirus pandemic to distract us from the role we must play in mitigating the effects of global warming.

We owe it to ourselves and future generations to protect our planet.


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