New Research Suggests Road Dust Has Unique Properties

In Dust Control, EK35®, Road & Surface Management by John Burnett

According to a recent study, dust in the city may not have the same chemical composition as dust in the country. The finding could prompt cities to reexamine their dust control strategies.

As it turns out, not all dust is created equal. In a recent study, scientists at the University of Alberta discovered that road dust in Edmonton, Canada has an unusual reaction to sunlight, producing a reactive form of oxygen in response to sun exposure. What this means is still unclear, but there’s an excellent chance that the findings could prompt cities and municipalities to reconsider their road maintenance strategies, particularly on unpaved surfaces.

A Surprising Reaction

The study, which the University of Alberta’s Department of Chemistry published in Environmental Science & Technology Letters, noted that the dust found in Edmonton’s roads is “photochemically active,” or particularly responsive to sunlight. The authors stressed that they hadn’t observed this property in other types of dust.

“We found that when you shine light on road dust, it produces a reactive form of oxygen called singlet oxygen,” says environmental chemist Sarah Styler. “It acts as an oxidant in the environment and can cause or influence other chemical reactions.”

As a result of this reaction, the researchers concluded that road dust can “influence the lifetime of urban pollutants that react via “O2-mediated pathways,” or the type of oxygen created when sunlight strikes this dust. In other words, road dust could cause certain pollutants to linger for a longer period of time by simply interacting with sunlight.

More to Learn

Road dust in cities may have such an unusual reaction to sunlight in part because it already contains more pollutants than its counterparts in more rural areas. Indeed, a typical sample can consist of loose fragments of aggregate, exhaust emissions, runoff from parks, and bits of debris and car tires.

The University of Alberta team hopes to better understand some of these properties through future research. Backed by the insights they’ve gleaned from this study, they now plan to analyze dust in other parts of Edmonton such as parks, residential areas, and commercial areas to test their responses to sunlight and see how their chemical makeup might differ.

A Greater Need for Dust Control

While the chemical properties of road dust are still being investigated, it’s well established that excessive dust poses a hazard to everybody. From diminished visibility to reducing the quality of the air, dust can prove a menace to any community. The University of Alberta study is all the more evidence that every municipality needs to treat its unpaved roads with an effective dust control product.

Backed by decades of experience in the dust control business, Midwest Industrial Supply, Inc. specializes in maintenance programs for unpaved village and township roads. Our patented synthetic organic dust suppressants like EK35® join with the surface aggregate and fuse it together to trap any fines within the surface, preventing dust from escaping as soon as it’s generated. When applied correctly, these products can suppress dust for months at a time without requiring reapplication.

If your village, township, or even city is looking to better manage and maintain its unpaved roads, Midwest can work with you to develop a turnkey application plan or managed service program that’s tailored to your community’s needs.

For safer and longer-lasting unpaved roads, look to Midwest for the solutions.