What Is Road Dust?

What Is Road Dust?

In Dust Control, EK35®, EnviroKleen® by Frank Elswick

Road dust is, without question, a nuisance. But what is it, exactly? And what’s the best way to deal with it moving forward?

It blows through the air, getting in our eyes, our hair, and even our homes. We all have an experience with road grit and dust and the little personal discomforts it can create. But beyond these, the presence of dust from a road indicates compromised structural integrity and an urgent need for a stabilization solution.

Fugitive Dust

Quite simply, dust is dirt. Bits of earthen material or particulate matter (PM), usually kicked up by tires from vehicles become airborne, blowing any way the wind carries it. A lot of dust — about 40% of all dust, according to the World Bank — comes from unpaved roads, a particularly significant statistic in rural areas and developing countries where the majority of road networks is gravel (up to 90% in some countries).

Many environmental factors contribute to the presence of dust. In dry or droughtstricken areas, for example, there is almost always dust in the atmosphere, and this is only exacerbated by a lack of vegetation and wind. Poor land-use practices are similarly impactful, especially in places with few or unenforced restrictions. The characteristics of the soil, surface properties, and the level and speed of traffic will also affect the amount of fugitive soil, making it extremely difficult to quantify.

Typically, dust is classified into two size categories, PM10 and PM2.5, depending on the measurement of the aerodynamic diameters in micrometers (µm). The smaller of the two, PM2.5, can travel greater distances and may have more harmful health impacts than PM10 (both are invisible to the naked eye). Road dust accounts for 50% of PM10 emissions and 19% of PM2.5, respectively.

The Implications

Because every passing vehicle on gravel roads kick up dust, and because the tires are constantly crushing the road material into ever smaller particles, proper construction and maintenance methods are essential to limit road dust. Studies have shown fugitive dust might be a common cause of allergies and hay fever, in addition to definitely causing vehicle damage and stunted plant growth, according to Muskegon County Road Commission. It can also severely limit visibility in extreme conditions, endangering drivers and pedestrians alike.

To make matters worse, dust blowing off gravel roadways is essentially money flying away in the wind. It is a sign that the road is deteriorating, as aggregates and fines that keep the road stable take flight. Poor road surface installation and upkeep require costly repairs that can make seemingly less expensive options actually much more pricey than expected. Palliative methods such as grading and watering may provide short-lived relief, but they are not effective long term.

Moving Forward

To protect the health of the environment and people all over the world, safe dirt road solutions are crucial. Some dust control methods have their own environmental impact, but Midwest Industrial Supply, Inc. has the most sound and effective options available. With products like EnviroKleen® and EK35®, road strength is increased and continues to increase with traffic. The synthetic fluid can withstand even the harshest weather conditions, and dramatically limits maintenance and lifecycle costs. You can breathe easy with Midwest.

(Image credit: Chris Goldberg/flickr)

Frank is the sales unit manager of Midwest's road construction and natural paving markets.