Street sweeping crews throughout the province are busy cleaning up road debris. (Black Press Media file photo)

Street sweeping crews throughout the province are busy cleaning up road debris. (Black Press Media file photo)

Road dust more than just a nuisance – it can affect our health

Exposure to particulate matter (PM) pollution is detrimental to cardiopulmonary health

By Erin Hitchcock

Special to the Tribune

Crews have been at it the last while, dealing with dirty, dusty roads.

Road dust can contribute to health issues and an increase in mortality rates, according to a 2017 paper published in the Journal of the Air & Waste Management Association.

“Nonaccidental mortality was strongly associated with daily PM (particulate matter) concentrations in the road dust season,” the study says, and that “elevated effects were observed in the communities of Smithers, Quesnel, and Williams Lake, all of which are routinely affected by spring road dust advisories.”

The study explains that both “short- and long-term exposure to particulate matter (PM) pollution is detrimental to cardiopulmonary health,” and can increase the risk of sudden cardiac arrest and arrhythmia, while also exacerbating asthma and other respiratory conditions.

Fine to coarse particulate matter (PM2.5-10), can also contain mold, pollen, de-icing agents, dust suppression agents, traction material, salt, heavy metals from combustion, rubber particles from tires, and asbestos particles from brake linings.

Ambient PM2.5 from residential woodsmoke in winter and wildfire smoke in summer can also be found, it says.

Managing road dust requires the right amount of moisture, said Matt Sutherland, manager of public works for the City of Williams Lake.

“You create dust clouds if you’re not using enough moisture, but if you use too much you don’t pick it up,” Sutherland said.

Mick Jones, supervisor of streets operations for the City of Prince George, said road dust in Prince George has been reduced partially due to using predominately small, fractured rock with little to no sand particles in the downtown core.

Prince George’s Clean Air bylaw also helps, according to Kim Menounos, manager of the Prince George Air Improvement Roundtable.

“The area that has probably made the biggest impact is the changes to the way that roads are swept and maintained, and that’s outlined in the Clean Air bylaw,” Menounos said.

Williams Lake doesn’t have a Clean Air bylaw but a section in its Good Neighbour bylaw addresses dust escaping from properties, according to the city’s bylaw department.

Erin Hitchcock is an Air Aware educator with Scout Island Nature Centre. Visit our updated website at

We gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the Province of BC through the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy.

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