Health Effects of Natural Dust: Role of Trace Elements and Compounds

Angus Cook, Philip Weinstein, J.A. Centeno

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89 Citations (Scopus)


This article reviews the health effects of trace elements carried in natural dusts of geologic or geochemical origin. The sources of these dusts are diverse, including volcanoes, dust storms, long-range transport of desert dust, and displacement through natural processes such as landslides and earthquakes. The primary focus is dust exposures affecting communities rather than occupational groups (which have been comprehensively explored in other publications). The principal elements and compounds reviewed are trace metals (including As, Hg, Cd, and Fe), radioactive elements, fluoride, silicates, natural asbestiform compounds, and alkali salts. The pathways by which such agents affect human populations are explored, including carriage through water, air, soil, and the food chain. The mechanisms of biotoxicity and the acute and chronic consequences on health associated with these elements are described. The discussion explores problems inferring risk and disease causation from natural dust exposures using standard epidemiological indicators, particularly for chronic outcomes, and will argue for the importance of the ecological perspective in assessing pathogenesis. The authors stress the global scale of the problem, which remains underevaluated and underreported in terms of health implications.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-15
JournalBiological Trace Element Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2005


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