Respirable and Inhalable Dust

What is Dust – Respirable and Inhalable Dust

This workshop on dust covers the basic information and knowledge that all Environmental Practitioners, Occupational Hygienists, Ventilation Engineers, Health Professionals and Health Safety Professionals should not only have a working knowledge of, but should be able to apply in the workplace.

While omitted from the above list, the Architect or Architectural Technologist should equally be aware of and apply the above principles, as the confining of an atmosphere containing dusts will increase the health risk associated with persons moving, living or working in the area or “space” – residential, office or hospital.

Dust by definition can constitute any particulate or matter fine enough to become airborne and will include rock, solid materials, organic substances, vapours, fumes, mists, fogs, smokes and under the correct conditions, fine gravels, flaky material, fibres, moulds, bacteria, microbes or small and sub-micronic insects.

As all of the above substances can be ingested, inhaled or come into contact with, it is vital that any toxicity, bacterial infection or mechanical action be known before the risks concerned with each can be considered in the Risk context.  This will dictate what needs to be done to mitigate the source, capture and handle the dust and to prevent it coming into contact with the air supply of artificial atmospheres, buildings, plants, air supplies or the atmospheres we work, live and play in.  This will also dictate the degree of permitted exposure by considering by considering ingestion degrees.

I welcome all of you “Dust Busters” as you will surely leave this venue with a greater will to prevent, monitor, control or handle dust and the knowledge to investigate occurrences to a far greater extent than when you arrived here.



As dust is fine solids or, in some cases liquids, there needs to be a system of measuring the particulate size and then to categorise the various dusts by size to see to what extent the dust is ingested.

The particulate can be measured by various means but within the metric system of measurements, we use the term micrometer or micron, which is an exceedingly small measurement of one-one thousandth of the millimetre.  The human eye will only see a profusion of dust in the air under certain conditions – predominantly if one is viewing the plume of dust against a blue sky against the light.  This presumes of course, that the dust concerned has a low reflective index and the colour has the greatest contrast with the sky colour as possible.

A lime dust plume is far more visible than cement, which is grey – less of a contrast against the sky’s blue.  Similarly, coal dust will be visible against the sky, whereas a light grey roadway dust will be less visible.

Any existence of moisture within the emission will also increase the dust visibility:-

  • By physically wetting the particle, which then may become darker in colour.
  • By condensing and adding a visible dimension to the plume.  Most observers will comment on how bad a dust plume looks when they are in fact seeing steam or water vapour, which they presume is white smoke rather than what it is – water vapour.  As a rule of thumb, watch such a plume and if it suddenly starts to disappear, then you are seeing water vapour.  What remains in the air is dust and this may just be visible at a distance further than the vapour plume extremity.


Dust of differing size particulate has a system of descriptive classification, which, while rather subjective, does put a lot of light on the matter and enables us to obtain a good idea of the particle size range applicable for each category.

The following diagram 1, of which there are many examples with slight variations, is most handy to convey the concept of particulate sizing within each category by definition.



As soon as one starts to view the various dust sizes, further classification by various agencies come into the picture due to the need to monitor for health purposes or for other reasons.

Occupationally, in South Africa we need to be aware that there are categories for:


  • Respirable dust
  • Thoracic dust
  • Inhaleable dust
  • Nuisance dust


While the last description may not be that official it is used by all and sundry as a “one size fits all” approach, as we all hate dust with one or two exceptions – “Gold Dust” or perhaps “Diamond Dust”.  To define any dust one needs to specify the dust particulate size range not withstanding the reasonably hard and fast definitions outlined above.  The American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH), now considered to be one of the foremost authorities on industrial hygiene and contrary to its name, is a private not-for-profit non-governmental corporation, whose members are industrial and occupational hygienists and other safety and health professionals dedicated to the promotion of health, safety and health safety in the workplace, has established the indicated classifications based on the following criteria:-

SIZE DISTRIBUTION Aerodynamic diameter (d) Mass % Aerodynamic diameter (d) Mass % Aerodynamic diameter (d) Mass %


































































DEFINED SIZE d0,50 = 100µm d0,50 = 10µm d0,50 = 4µm



The term or definition of total dust is “airborne material sampled with the 37mm closed face cassette traditionally used for aerosol sampling”.  The term will ultimately need to be replaced occupationally by one of the above descriptions.  Research using cassettes has broadly indicated  it is scandalous that we still ‘assume’ this total dust is a risk or not after over 40 years.  It can be ingested.

We point out that the three categories of particulate size sampling are achieved using the new ISO/CEN/ACGIH curve cyclone with a flow rate of 2,208 litres/min (say 2,2 litres/min).  The previous BMRC curve cyclones were operated at a flow rate of 1,890 litres/min (say 1,9 litres/min).

During the initial stages of the swap-over to ISO/CEN/ACGIH cyclones, we noted that paired rigs yielded a d0,50 cut off of 4,00µm for the BRMC and 5,0µm for the latter.  This was largely due to the differing flow rates and if the ISO/CEN/ACGIH was operated at 1,9 litres/min then a value closer to the BRMC 4,00µm was achieved.  So why increase the flow rate?  Research has now found larger particulate trapped in lung tissue.

The above information is handy for occupational hygienists to determine PM10 levels using ISO/CEN/ACGIH cyclones and 37mm cassettes and monitoring for environmental purposes.

When using the cassette without the cyclone at 1,90 litres/min, one achieves a PM10 result, but to improve the distribution of dust on to the filter, the distance between the cassette entrance hole and filter needs to be increased so a more lamina distribution can be achieved as well as a more consistent loading of the filter.  Any material entering and remaining loosely in the bottom of the cassettes must not be retained in the sample as this will be average oversize and considerably so.

It is possible to take a larger cut-off at perhaps d0,50 – 20µm, 30µm or even 50µm, but if we bear in mind that the limiting factor after 2,0 litres/min becomes the cassette opening, which needs to be drilled out to 6mm for 20µm and 30µm and to 10mm for 50µm dust, then one is sacrificing cassettes.  The flow rates also become increasingly critical the larger particulate we wish to capture and one then needs to consider the density of the dust material to arrive at a flow rate.



Well, to start off, we need to go back and notice how we accepted the particulate sizing and flow rates so easily and assumed that these are finite, cut and dried and cast in stone as it were!!!

No, life is never that simple and air density played a massive role in the amount of air that our gravimetric sampler was handling, and in fact the altitude will also have played a massive role, as well as barometric pressure, so at the end of the day, how accurate are those Respirable, Thoracic or Inhalable dust samples, and while we are at it, how accurate is your high volume constant flow sampler determining PM10 sample results?  It has become question after question with fewer and fewer answers being available, which means that the environmental auditors who check your reports will only specify and check that your methodology was to regulation or method.  Where has reality gone?  Dust is not dust, is not dust, or is it?

While we are on Question Time, let us select a few more to look at:-


  • If your PM10 or gravimetric sampling rig sampler is operating to spec and the dust is mainly organic, are you over reading or under reading?  Does Durban and Johannesburg make a difference?
  • The same question needs to be asked for gravimetric sampling, but let us add common pollutants to make the answer more difficult.  If your gravimetric sampler and ISO/CEN/ACGIH cyclone and cassette are running at 2,2 litres/min with cellulose wood fibre dust and coal dust, will the results be the same and will both be representative bearing in mind that the density of wood fibre could be as low as 20 kg/m3, while the coal dust will have a density of over 2 ton/m3?  I have used bulk density and not material density.  Is this correct?


Having questioned convention surrounding capturing the airborne dust for your sample, let us look at how the dust is scavenged or collected.

The inlet on an ISO/CEN/ACGIH cyclone is exceedingly small and is directional and far too many assumptions are made around the acceptance of accuracy.

We need to be aware of directional airflow in the sampling area or over the sampling rig and this airflow needs to be stabilised before we can assume that the result is correct.  The bell or impactor on a PM10 or PM2,5 rig can scavenge windblown dust and affect the dynamics of collection to the point where accuracy is affected in the same way as the cyclone rig, so we need to ask what we are sampling for and work within the limitation of the equipment we are using.

Finally, the cost of equipment and the labour needed to run sampling exercises, means that we try to minimise the number of samples that are taken as well as the position and we erroneously assume that these are representative.

  • Sampling in one or two positions is not representative of conditions on a plant, surrounding a property, in a township or industrial area.
  • Sampling on one or two days, a week or even a month is as inaccurate as a total guess when viewing permanent conditions.
  • Most analysis methods demand samples of substance, more than the couple of micrograms collected in a PM10 or gravimetric dust sample with the result that inaccuracies of scale are being accepted.


To illustrate this, the City of Cape Town has about seven permanent monitoring stations around the Peninsula, which run at best erratically and often not at all and the results are accepted without question.

On mines, the dust levels come down all the time but silicosis cases increase – there is something wrong.  There are many cases out there with persons never having worked at a mine or lived near one.



Getting around to looking at this monitoring, we note that the accepted finite standard is the ASTM 1739 method, which has not been researched since the 1950’s, when a lot of work was done before the focus was moved to gravimetric principles and thus PM10.  There are two dangers in this:


  • Was enough research done on the method before it was shelved with the comment that it was at best a gross indication of conditions?
  • The label “gross indication” effectively prevented the system being resurrected and more research being done.  This is a fatal attitude to anything as many a cure has been dumped when on the verge of a breakthrough – all because someone had a new idea which seemed more promising.


While not added to the above dangers, the largest danger in blindly accepting the PM10 system, was discovered very soon after the first prototypes were tested.  How representative are the results and how repeatable?

Neither question is answered satisfactorily nor have many of the problems associated with the sampling rigs been partly solved by throwing vast sums of money and sensitive electronics at the problems.  Well and good;  we have a sampling system costing hundreds of thousands of US$ per unit when most countries and the people who need to monitor in those countries, need a cheap reliable method that has been adequately researched and can be used without a costly power supply with back-up systems and costly technical maintenance.

Somehow the whole point has been sacrificed on the altar of patented technology and the servicing vested in highly skilled technicians.  This is certainly not how the world environmental and health problems are going to be solved and the whole point has been lost, the plot totally misread.   We need to cut dust generation and not just monitor it.



When you look at this diagram you will note where dust respirability lies with almost everything above this, including some material within the range constituting material that will be borne along on air currents and can and will eventually precipitate either when the air movement ceases almost entirely or the humidity increases; the latter is the largest single reason for dust deposition with one other scenario which comes quite close.

If the air movement directionality changes rapidly to a 180º extent then the dynamics of direction reversal will result in dust fall on a larger scale.   This is the material that the housewife sees on their washing, in her lounge and on your car.

If we look at the particle size distribution which will differ from sample to sample and view both the D0.50 as well as D0.90 we see that capture of this slightly larger material size spread is probably more important that say PM10.  The greater the visible dust cloud is the more likely that there will be high respirables so we need to handle the visible dust and where possible eliminate this totally.

This sample is a long term (1 year) sample of precipitant or fall-out dust captured in one of our DustWatch monitors.

Now view the diagram below to view where the risks to health and safety lie and then revert back to the precipitant or fall-out to see how this fits in to the diagram above.

I believe the point is then to “look after the pounds – let the pennies look after themselves”.  Do not regard this as finite when viewing toxic agents.  They are different but general dust which does contain elements of toxic agents must attract differing occupational exposure limits and so all monitoring results must be looked at.  Precipitant dust in the Sishen area included historically 2 to 4 fibres per year or sometimes more asbestiform fibres.

In Lime Acres and Danielskuil the rate is similar and at Postmasburg the occurrence of fibres annually exceeds 12 or 1 per month.  No monitoring for fibres would have yielded such results.

Precipitant dust monitors the hydrocarbon particulates below the flight paths of aircraft and along the alignment route of runways.  The toxicity of polypropylene fibres is not even considered yet fibres pervade our homes, offices, hospitals, clinics and mines.

What is also ignored in the various diagrams above is the effect of static on airborne dust.  Organic mists, fumes and aerosols will be attracted to and cling to the organic particles in the air and while these may be quite big, they carry as unwanted and generally totally ignored load of potentially super toxic agents, pesticides, herbicides and organo phosphates.

PM10 thus conveniently ignores this fact and so does most airborne dust sampling.  We, the population are now not to ask questions about this and blindly accept airborne sampling as the grand cure and finitely accurate methodology.


Filters & filtration – Christopher Dickenson

Environmental In SA mines – MVS 1989

NIOSH handbook 2004






Table Mountain fire – this vacuumed the City of Cape Town of all pollutants, dusts and fumes.  The resultant precipitant dust falling out over the full 24 hour period was the ‘who’s who’ of toxic substances.


DustWatch CC – Dustfall monitoring services –  Dust Monitoring Equipment and Dust Monitoring Devices – Fallout dust collection or collection of precipitant dust can be achieved using the DustWatch Unit Device and the ASTM D1739 Method. Dust Precipitation and Dust Fall measuring equipment.  Outfall dust standards and Dust equipment. Volcanic Ash Monitoring.  American Standard Test Method D1739. Dust Sampling Equipment.  Dustfall sampling pictures.  Training Procedures. Buchner Funnel Equipment – dustfall monitoring, dust equipment, rspm vs pm10 vs pm2.5

Read – National Dust Control Regulations