Cartwright dust a cause for concern: Lung Association

The dust is far from settled in the debate about what should be done to improve the air quality in the coastal Labrador community of Cartwright, and now the National Lung Association is calling the situation a health hazard.

Labrador highway dust connected to asthma, heat attack risk: chair of association

People in Cartwright are concerned about their health because of the dust kicked up by vehicles on the unpaved highway and roads in the area. (CBC)

The dust is far from settled in the debate about what should be done to improve the air quality in the coastal Labrador community of Cartwright, and now the Canadian Lung Association is calling the situation a health hazard.

Two years ago the provincial government of Newfoundland and Labrador suspended a calcium chloride program that helped to suppress the dust coming from the unpaved highway near the community.

Now, residents in the area are complaining of thick dust in the air from the roads.
Phoebe Pardy says she has to close the windows in her home when the dust on the nearby roads gets into the air. (CBC)

Barbara MacKinnon, chair of the Lung Association's Environmental Issues Working Group, says that dust could have detrimental health effects.

"Something has to be done because no one should be breathing in air that contains that level of particulate matter. It is very bad for everyone's health, not just people who have pre-existing health conditions, children should not be exposed to [the dust] nor should the elderly," said MacKinnon.

MacKinnon said it's not the place of the group to make decisions, and costs are always a factor for local authorities. "I wouldn't want to suggest a particular path that they would take, beyond, you know, maybe the best solution would be to pave the roads," she said.

Maybe the best solution would be to pave the roads.- Barbara MacKinnon, Canadian Lung Association

According to MacKinnon, there is plenty of scientific data available to support claims of damage caused by inhaling particulate matter.

"The larger particles, when you inhale them you tend to catch them in your upper airwaves and they irritate you … you tend to be able to cough them out, although it depends on the make up of those particles because some of them could be toxic," said MacKinnon.

However, MacKinnon said the smaller particles inhaled can become lodged into the small spaces of the human lung.

Finer dust makes health risk more likely

She said for those living with asthma, the dust can trigger an asthma attack and make breathing more difficult.

MacKinnon said the finer dust particles can increase the likelihood of blood clots and heart attacks.

"It doesn't have to be [a prolonged exposure], lots of evidence shows, throughout Canada we have some poor air quality days in certain places … if the air pollution levels rise you can have that person go into the hospital with a heart attack within a couple of days," she said.

Dust from the roads in and around the Cartwright area builds up frequently on vehicles. People in the area say they struggle to keep their properties clean from the dust. (CBC)
Ever since the provincial government suspended the dust suppressing calcium chloride program, the rising dust levels have meant rising concerns from the people who live in Cartwright.

"It's smothering … we have our windows open, when the dust starts coming we have to close it all, like, there's no fresh air," said area resident Phoebe Pardy, who said she lives with a lung condition.

"They need to put something on the road because people here have bad breathing, you know and stuff like that."

Resident Viola Holwell said she is also concerned for her family's health.

"I've got three grandchildren, and the three of them have got asthma," Holwell said.

"I mean, it's killing them. They can't get out because they can't breath it in."

Minister recognizes health concerns

The province's Minister for Transportation and Works, Nick McGrath, said residents should avoid going outside on dusty days.

McGrath acknowledged the possible health hazards the dust poses to people living in the area.

The dust from the roads in Cartwright isn't just a problem outside, but also inside the homes. A layer of dust thick enough to write in is frequently seen on furniture. (CBC)
"I think that it is quite important for the general public to know that quite often with the calcium chloride program, you're hiding or suppressing the larger particles of the dust," said McGrath.

"But it is the smaller particles that you are breathing in that are still in the area that are more dangerous to you than the larger dust that you actually see."

A spokesperson for McGrath's department said "[t]he Minister has directed departmental officials to look into the concerns voiced … and for them to consult with other relevant departments to quickly identify an appropriate course of action."

Scrapping the calcium chloride program saved the province roughly $600,000, which government said it hopes to put toward the cost of paving the area highways.


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