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Dust storms are caused when strong, turbulent winds greater than 30 km per hour carry fine particles of dust from the surrounding area. Particles that can be picked up during dust storms include:
- microorganisms such as bacteria
- spores of fungi.
Dust storms are short events that often occur after periods of intense heat (for example, drought or fire), over cleared land or during a cold front.
Health impacts of dust can vary and may cause irritation to the eyes, nose and skin, which can be alleviated by washing the area well with water.
For more susceptible people, dust and pollen can cause a range of issues including difficulty in breathing.
If you have asthma, or another chronic respiratory condition, and you experience chest tightness, wheezing, coughing or shortness of breath, you should follow your prescribed action plan.
If you are having difficulty breathing, seek medical attention from your local GP. If your symptoms become severe, call triple zero (000).
People at risk
While all people may feel discomfort, people with pre-existing illnesses such as respiratory or heart-related problems may have existing symptoms aggravated.
Those most at risk are:
- infants and children
- older people
- people with asthma, bronchitis or emphysema
- people with heart (cardiovascular) disease or other heart related conditions
- people with diabetes
People who live in Port Pirie will be more vulnerable to lead exposure during high wind days.
Protect yourself during a dust storm
- Stay inside with closed windows, doors, and vents.
- Use appropriate air conditioner settings in the home and in vehicles to prevent outside air coming in:
- Home air conditioners, such as split systems and ducted reverse cycle air conditioners, do not draw in outside air and do not need to be adjusted.
- Evaporative systems should be turned off as they rely on air from outside.
- Set your car air conditioner to the ‘recirculate’ mode if possible.
- Avoid exercise, especially outdoors, to reduce the intake of particles into your lungs.
- If you have asthma, follow your action plan and take your medications as prescribed.
- If you work in a dusty environment, consider delaying work or wear a well-fitted mask (P2, KN95 or N95) over your mouth and nose to reduce the dust you breathe in. Surgical masks do not prevent dust particles being breathed in.
- If dust is causing itchy eyes, nose and skin, wash well with water and if symptoms persist seek medical attention.
Staying safe on the roads during a dust storm
Dust storms can reduce visibility. Extra caution should be taken when driving a vehicle.
If visibility is low, reduce speed and turn on your vehicle’s headlights. If visibility is too low to drive, park in a safe place to avoid collisions and turn on your hazard lights. Do not park under trees.
If your car has air conditioning, reduce the incoming dust by switching the air intake to recirculate.