Saharan dust has reached our country again these days, and will be in the air until the end of the month, along with warm, spring temperatures.
What’s interesting is that this time the dust didn’t arrive to Greece directly from Africa, because the winds that brought it to us are northerly, not southerly. The dust first reached Europe from Spain, moving up to S Sweden and filling the air in the whole of Europe. Then northerly winds started blowing it southwards over the Balkans, finally reaching Greece yesterday.
Greek news always like to ring an alarm when this happens writing that we must be careful not to do exercise outside if possible, keep the kids inside at home, etc. because Saharan dust is supposedly very dangerous for our health.
But they forget to tell us during the remaining days of the year that the air we breathe in our cities is very toxic anyway due to the pollution that WE produce, not the African desert. It’s always easier to put the blame of our debacles on others, especially if they are far away.
Actually, Saharan dust contains many minerals and chemical compounds that act as fertilizers in the lands where they fall. For example, Saharan dust provides tons of phosphorus to the Amazon and Caribbean forests every year, which replenishes the leak of this plant-essential nutrient by rains and flooding. This suggests an important role of Saharan dust in maintaining the productivity of these rainforests on timescales of decades or centuries.
At the end of the day, Saharan dust is not so much more dangerous than our own air pollution that we create in our cities. So if we want to be really honest and consequent, we should NEVER do exercise outdoor when Air Pollution, both self-produced or from African origin, is high. But news people don’t like to tell us that. It’s not a big news if it is something that is ongoing, isn’t it?
See an article here by Sotirios Papathanasiou, our Greek Air Pollution expert, about when is best doing physical exercise outdoors in Athens. The answer? NEVER in winter and early spring!
So, to reply to the question in the title: “is Saharan dust so bad for our health”, the answer is yes, it is bad because it is made up of Particulate Matter which contains various chemical compounds that are dangerous for our health. These enter the lungs and blood stream triggering various physiological reactions that can lead to complications especially in people that are already sensitive to air pollution.
But we should not make it a big issue because Saharan dust is not much more dangerous than the Air Pollution that we create in our own cities and villages. Let’s not forget that Saharan dust reaches our country only during a few days of the year, while our own Air Pollution is here 365 days/year, and especially in winter it is extremely dangerous too. Wood smoke contains over 200 chemical compounds of which many are carcinogenic, and in winter, for around 5 months from the end of October until at least mid March, we have to breathe dangerous amounts of wood smoke every single day!
So, what is more dangerous, Saharan dust or our own air pollution?