Dr. Dean

Will Breathing Concrete Dust Make Me Sick?

Posting Date: 09/03/1999

Dave: I've got these concrete blocks that are used for building a retaining wall, and they came with a big warning tag that says, if you do any dry cutting of these blocks, it will create a dust that causes a number of things, including cancer and birth defects.

I'm wondering if that's something that applies to someone who does this for a living or if you just do it once in a while?

I'm using a diamond blade on a Skilsaw and it does make a lot of dust.

Dr. Dean: When it comes to dust, the worst dust is the kind you breathe and that goes way down into the lungs. You will probably understand that the larger the particle size, the less likely it is to do that. Your nose and throat filter those out, and it's an incredibly efficient mechanism, because inside your nose are all these little shelves and partitions. They are wet with mucus, and the dust sticks to that, and the air is filtered, in a way. Even your throat is capable of doing that.

So when you open your mouth and breathe through your mouth in a dusty place, most of that dust does not get down into your lungs.

But there is a particle size in a type of dust that does, and when it gets way down into your lungs, on a chronic basis, it will cause disease. On an acute basis, most people's lungs, if they're healthy, have little cells in them that gather up the dust and those cells slowly work their way up and climb up and out of the bronchial tree, and eventually you cough and everything is fine.

So on a short-term basis, I probably wouldn't worry too much - on a chronic basis, I would worry. Now, this is very, very important - I am not quite sure of how they make concrete blocks today, and the particle size of that dust, and whether it is a risk or not.

So I'm kind of in the dark here, except that I would at least wear a mask, and I would buy an efficient one. The trick with the mask is, I think a cheap filter will work. It's a question of what gets around the side of the mask, and a high-quality mask prevents stuff from getting around the sides. I would spend a couple of extra dollars to get a good, tight-fitting mask. And I think you're probably going to be all right with it, as long as you're not doing it all the time.

The other thing is, if you're going to be doing a lot of it, you can always rent a diamond saw with moisture. It makes a lot less of a mess. I think it probably cuts better.

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