The massive Sahara dust storm that created hazy, and at times picturesque, landscapes in parts of the U.S. this week continued its march westward Friday and is expected to dissipate by the end of the weekend, experts told The Post.
The orange, sandy particles blanketing Africa’s Sahara Desert, which covers the northern head of the continent, created dust clouds that plowed across the Atlantic Ocean, into the Caribbean and across the southeastern United States this week before taking a turn northwest on Friday.
As photos of the dust’s impact start to circulate, spurning memes about how dreadful 2020 has become, questions have risen about the dust’s health impacts and what it means for the coronavirus pandemic.
What are the health effects of the Sahara dust storm?
Dr. K Max Zhang from Cornell University’s Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering studies the health impacts of atmospheric particulate matters.
He told The Post there’s three things to consider when it comes to the Sahara dust cloud: the size of the particles, the concentration and the composition of the particles.
When it comes to size, Zhang said approximately 30% of the dust coming from the Sahara is considered to be “fine,” which makes the health impacts much worse.
“Typically, the smaller particles can penetrate deeper into the lungs and the health impacts become more [serious],” Zhang told The Post.
“Particles cause respiratory health effects and irritation and the smaller particles can cause cardiovascular issues and a whole sweep of other health impacts.”
Zhang said the more concentrated the particles are, the more likely there will be health effects. So in states like Texas, Louisiana and territories like Puerto Rico, which all saw higher concentrations of dust, residents there can expect a higher risk of health effects, Zhang said.
Finally, the chemical composition is an extremely important thing to consider and hasn’t been discussed enough, Zhang said.
“We are also talking about a phenomenon, an atmospheric process that brings particles from southern places miles away,” Zhang said.
On that voyage over, the particles pick up all sorts of pollutants, including emissions, soot and exhaust particles, making the dust that’s landing in the U.S. “much more toxic” than what’s actually found in the Sahara, Zhang said.