How do you control dust on a construction site? Water, barriers, polymers, stones and vegetation, and sweeping.
Surprisingly, dust control is a big part of almost all construction projects. It’s an unavoidable evil unless you work in the frozen tundra. I’ll even go as far as to say it’s a key part of the preparation of construction sites.
The general rule of thumb is, to impact the least amount of the surrounding area with dust. Otherwise, there’s potential for air and water pollution. Especially considering, dust can travel far distances on land and in the air.
Before covering the 8 dust control methods, we’ll go over general dust guidelines.
Important Note: airborne particles from construction sites can contain the following:
- Heavy metals
Breathing in these particles can cause allergic reactions and respiratory problems. These are not only health concerns, but liability concerns. Even more, these particles can damage construction equipment.
General dust control guidelines
Follow the below guidelines with every project, to reduce dust control mitigation costs.
- For large project sites, first test a small area with your selected dust control method. See how it works, before using it on your entire project.
- Treat areas early in the day, if you think the dust will pick up later in the day. You’ll prevent problems from temperature rises and increased vehicular traffic.
- Limit all vehicle speeds on dusty roads.
- Limit vehicle travel on high-wind days.
- Follow the manufacturer’s specifications for all dust control methods.
- Use tillage for emergency dust control.
- Use sticky floor mats at entrances to construction areas.
- For construction trailers on-site, tape all doors except those used for access.
- Cover and seal storage materials.
- Identify major dust sources and use aggressive dust control methods against them.
Important Note: each location and project has different dust requirements. So, learn about your city, state, and contract dust requirements. This will drive your choice of dust control method to use.
It’s important to also tailor dust control plans to each individual project. No two project sites are the same. Especially, when you consider different geographic project locations. Some project sites are windier, while others are more humid and hot.
Method #1: water
This is the most common method used for dust control. It’s cheap and works great.
Spray trucks can lightly spray water on areas with dry and loose dirt. This prevents dust from kicking up and becoming airborne.
Just don’t use sprinkling systems, if they’ll create mud or flooding on public streets. This can become a safety hazard for drivers.
Also, don’t use too much water, as excess water will erode patches of your land. You can have runoff issues too, with more water than the land can absorb. Excess water then runs off to neighboring areas, potentially causing damage.
Important Note: look to use recycled water. This is a water source often readily found at project sites.
Method #2: barriers
Barricading your entire construction site to the outside world isn’t practical. But, you can smartly position your barricades to control dust.
Place tall standing barriers at right angles to the wind’s direction, without gaps. This helps prevent wind near the ground and wind erosion. In most instances, you’re not preventing dust, but containing it.
These barriers are typically board fences made from wood. Any other solid material you can get your hands on, such as the following will work too:
- Snow fencing
- Burlap fencing
- Crate walls
Even trees and tall grass can serve as barriers if they’re in the right spot. The end goal is to simply block incoming wind from kicking up dust.
To point out, I don’t commonly see barriers used because of the unpredictability of wind. If the wind direction suddenly changes, your barrier can become useless. Plus, it takes a lot of effort to install barriers, especially for large project sites.
Method #3: mulch and vegetation
This method requires proper advanced planning. By applying mulch and vegetation to your land, you can protect exposed loose soil. Also, you prevent airborne dust and erosion from using excess water.
As a case example, the roots of grass will work their way into soil, helping hold the soil together. The key is to grow your grass in areas where you won’t excavate. Preferably somewhere, which only has foot traffic.
A popular technique used by construction teams is hydroseeding. This is a planting process, where a truck sprays a mix of seeds and mulch.
The drawback is, you’ll need to constantly water your vegetation. A big time sink, if you don’t have an irrigation system set up. Plus, you still need to be careful to not overwater, causing erosion.
Method #4: application of polymer for soil stabilization
Have you driven by a construction site and seen a green material spread everywhere? If yes, you’ve seen the application of polymers. This is a binding agent sprayed from water trucks, which is both organic and chemical.
You apply the polymer to dry soil and then add water. The water activates the polymer, creating a single layer of material on the soil surface. The soil particles bond together, creating an impermeable barrier to even water. Wind can’t even pick up the dust and blow it off.
Even more, certain dust control polymers can last several years after application. This is a huge selling point for long-lasting engineering projects. Because, unlike with water, you don’t need to spray the ground daily.
The polymers are only used in light traffic areas though. Because heavy vehicles can disrupt the polymer layer.
Overall, polymers help prevent soil structure degradation and erosion.
Method #5: stones
It’s not practical to spread stones all across a large project site. But, stones are a great option for construction roads. Especially, roads, which large trucks drive through.
Most project sites I visit, have roads covered with stones. It’s even more common on bumpy roads. Without the stones, dust would permeate the entire peripheral area of the road.
Important Note: in high wind areas, the stones need to be larger. Anywhere from 4 to 6 inches. This will prevent stones from scattering, and exposing the underlying dust.
Method #6: chloride as a binding agent
This option includes using the following:
- Calcium chloride (flake or liquid)
- Magnesium chloride (liquid)
- Sodium chloride (table salt)
These compounds help with dust control, wind erosion, and soil stabilization.
How it works is, they absorb moisture from the air. Treated areas like roads will then remain damp. This prevents airborne dust, even in dry hot summer conditions with vehicular traffic. They also help bind aggregate particles together, hardening the ground surface.
To point out, in concentrated amounts, binding agents can become corrosive. They can also seep into groundwater, causing problems. So, always first check if binding agents are options to use in your construction area. Because it’s a controversial method.
Important Note: you need minimum humidity to use this dust control method. Because there needs to be moisture in the air for the soil to absorb the binding agents.
Method #7: tillage
By using chisel plows on soil, deep tillage brings soil clod to the surface. The trenching should be a minimum of 6-inches though.
This new surface material will cover any dust, preventing airborne particles. The only catch is, you can only tillage in predominately flat land. It’s not practical to tillage a hilly area.
Method #8: sweeping and cleaning equipment
Even the best dust control methods won’t capture all the dust in your construction site. You’ll still have airborne particles going in places you don’t want. So, invest in sweeping and cleaning equipment.
In the end, do whatever you can to best and safely control excess dust.
“How do you control dust on a construction site?” wrap up
Dust control is an undiscussed yet critical part of almost every construction project. It takes a lot of short-term and long-term planning. You need to use a combination of methods for a successful dust prevention plan.
But if done right, you’ll eliminate many future problems. And I think dust control is even more important today because of climate change. With temperatures increasing, the amount of dust at construction sites will only increase.
How do you control dust on a construction site? Do you think dust at project sites is a big concern?
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Koosha started Engineer Calcs in 2020 to help people better understand the engineering and construction industry, and to discuss various science and engineering-related topics to make people think. He has been working in the engineering and tech industry in California for over 15 years now and is a licensed professional electrical engineer, and also has various entrepreneurial pursuits.
Koosha has an extensive background in the design and specification of electrical systems with areas of expertise including power generation, transmission, distribution, instrumentation and controls, and water distribution and pumping as well as alternative energy (wind, solar, geothermal, and storage).
Koosha is most interested in engineering innovations, the cosmos, our history and future, sports, and fitness.