Farming dust can come from many different sources. Organic dust can come from crops, silage, animal wastes and bedding. Molds, pollen, and animal dander can occur naturally and vary in concentrations due to weather, seasons, or ventilation in indoor environments. Other dust sources include powdered chemicals and diesel engine exhaust.  Dust from soil, additives, and amendments can be created during planting, weeding, and harvesting.

When you breathe in farm dust, the particles can lodge in your lungs and cause health effects. The smaller the dust particle, the deeper it can penetrate into your lung tissue. If you smoke or have an existing respiratory illness, you may be more susceptible to dust exposures. Short-term health effects may include sneezing, coughing, and difficulty breathing. The extra work it takes to breathe can cause your body stress and fatigue.

Long-term, chronic effects from dust exposure may include lung congestion, chronic bronchitis,  pneumonia, and different dust sensitivities and allergies. Chronic dust exposure can lead to serious respiratory diseases such as asthma, emphysema, and farmer’s lung. These illnesses may require ongoing medications and medical care.

To reduce your exposure to farm dusts, survey your work area and tasks to determine what jobs and activities you do and which areas you work in that create dust. Once you have identified these areas and tasks, look at ways to reduce the dust exposures.

Try engineering and administrative methods first to cut dust emissions. Use good ventilation in enclosed spaces such as barns and silos. Look at how you dispense materials around the farming operation and change them to reduce the dust emissions. For example, automated feed machines, mechanical waste removal systems, and wet spray methods can all cut dust emissions. Use proper storage methods and consider changing bedding materials, feeds, chemical fertilizers, etc. to low-dust options.

When you have identified and implemented dust reduction techniques, note the remaining tasks and work areas that create dust exposures. These are the job tasks that may require respiratory protection such as a nuisance dust mask or, for more protection, an air-purifying respirator.

Before you use respiratory protection, have a respiratory protection program in place that includes medical evaluation and respirator fit testing. Use the correct respirator cartridges for your tasks and exposures. Organic vapor and chemical cartridges protect against chemical fumes. Particulate filters trap particles of dust. You can also use combinations of different types of filters, depending on your exposures. Use and maintain your respirators properly according to your respiratory protection plan and manufacturer’s recommendations to reduce your exposures to farming dust.