industrial health & safety

December 10, 2020

nuisance dust

Dust is an often overlooked yet serious concern inside industrial facilities where it can affect our sinuses, lungs, and the whole respiratory system, with potentially serious health consequences. Employers must recognize that the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) has set a permissible exposure limit (PEL) for both total dust and respirable dust. Dust comes in many forms, and OSHA specifically regulates certain types of dust such as:

  • Asbestos
  • Carbon black
  • Coal dust
  • Cotton dust
  • Lead dust
  • Mineral dust (Silica)

Dust that does not fall into a defined category, such as paper dust, food product dust, inert dust, or nuisance dust, is classified by OSHA as “Particulates Not Otherwise Regulated” (PNOR). These PNOR have a PEL of 15 milligrams per cubic meter (mg/m3) as a Time Weighted Average (TWA), which is the average concentration of a contaminant over the course of a workday (typically 8-hours).

When these PNOR are very tiny, smaller than 10 microns, they are known as Particulate Matter 10 (PM10), or respirable dust.  Dust that is small like PM10 is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as the “fraction of inhaled airborne particles that can penetrate beyond the terminal bronchioles into the gas-exchange region of the lungs.” OSHA has set the respirable dust PEL at 5.0 mg/m3.

As dust is transported around a building via air currents, wind, and the building’s heating/ventilation/air conditioning (HVAC) system, it can lead to respiratory symptoms, airway obstructions, asthma, and other health effects. Ultimately, exposure to elevated levels of dust leads to unhealthy employees and affects worker productivity.

SCS has helped building owners, facility engineers, property managers, and industrial building tenants investigate and evaluate factors contributing to dust exposure in their buildings.  Dust buildup on surfaces and in the breathing air depends on air handling systems, local exhaust ventilation, dust collection systems, and HVAC systems. Excessive dust can also present an explosion hazard, in addition to health effects.

Dust investigation and remediation can mitigate threatened lawsuits and minimize toxic tort risk.

SCS Engineers specializes in investigating and correcting poor air quality related to dust.  From building design to specifying dust collection systems and implementing corrective measures such as local exhaust ventilation for machinery or dust-generating processes, and removing asbestos building materials.

SCS professionals are also experts in air clearance sampling after remediation. We are sensitive to analytical testing costs and will design our investigations to address specific dust issues to keep expenses down.


Meet our author, Jed Douglas, one of our specialists located nationwide. Mr. Douglas is a Senior Project Advisor specializing in Occupational Health and Safety Programs. He is a Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH), a Certified Safety Professional (CSP), a licensed Professional Geologist in California, Oregon, Washington, and Arizona, and a U.S. Green Building Council LEED Accredited Professional. Jed has over 25 years of experience as a health and safety specialist and has managed numerous environmental projects involving safety; soil and groundwater investigations and remediation of hazardous constituents; and, indoor air quality (IAQ) assessments for physical, chemical, and biological contaminants.






Posted by Diane Samuels at 6:00 am