What is a dust disease

Dust diseases are a group of chronic lung diseases caused by inhaling certain products when they are in powder (or dust) form. Symptoms do not usually appear until years later.

Most of the dust diseases seen by us are caused by asbestos dust. Not all dusts are harmful to human health.

Other dusts that can cause diseases when inhaled are:

  • silica
  • hard metals, egtungsten, cobalt
  • aluminium, beryllium
  • bagasse, cotton and mouldy hay
  • straw or grain.

Workplace dust can be inhaled when:

  • dust is created-usually by cutting, sanding, drilling or grinding
  • when it's disturbed, eg during home renovations or during earth works.

The risk of developing a dust disease is low. The risk of disease may increase with increased exposure to dust.

Safety and prevention

Dust diseases can be prevented by using dust suppression methods and/or respiratory protection, eg dust masks.

Symptoms of a dust disease

The symptoms of dust diseases are similar to many other respiratory illnesses.That's why dust diseases can only be diagnosed through medical tests.

The most common symptoms for dust diseases include:

  • coughing
  • shortness of breath or abnormal breathing
  • chest pain
  • mucus in the airways (sputum production)

Dust diseases do not generally appear until many years after exposure. Dust diseases can cause benign thickening or scarring of lung tissue. Asbestos dust can also cause lung cancer and malignant mesothelioma.

It is important to understand that dust diseases are preventable by staying away from the dust or by using dust protection methods (eg dusk masks). Read more about asbestos safety by visiting SafeWork NSW.