Saharan dust plume could be dangerous for those with a respiratory illness

Experts suggest people should limit time outside
What is the Saharan dust plume and how it will affect you
Posted at 9:05 PM, Jun 25, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-25 22:29:38-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — We may be dealing with an air quality alert this weekend, thanks to a plume of dust traveling from the Saharan Desert.

"Don’t want to scare people, but it’s one of those things, use common sense," said Gail Frost, the Executive Director of the Tennessee Chapter of the American Lung Association.

"This is a common event. This happens year after year after year," said Dr. Aaron Milstone, a pulmonologist at Williamson Medical Center.

A plume may be common, but not like this. Dr. Milstone says the cloud is so big, you can see it from space. "Normally they’re wispy and not very particulate. Just this past week, the international space station was able to look down upon the earth and see this gigantic dust cloud coming this way," he said.

Beyond the size, the impact to Middle Tennessee's air quality is also a big concern. Frost is urging anyone who has a lung condition to stay inside this weekend.

"Most of the dust we’ll be seeing will be high up in the atmosphere, but there will be a significant amount that will be getting close down to the surface," said Frost.

If you have to get out, avoid exercising and wear an N-95 mask if you have one. Dr. Milstone says a cloth mask is better than nothing, but it isn't ideal. "Because these particles in the Saharan dust cloud are so fine and so tiny, you really need a more suitable mask," said Milstone.

If all else fails, Milstone recommends breathing in using your nose. "The nose helps to humidify air, and that will help to trap some of those dust particles," he said.

This comes in an already difficult year for someone with a respiratory illness, considering COVID-19. "2020 is not our best showing," said Milstone. "Do not panic, we can be ready for this."