How do you control dust on a construction site? The most common method is to use water. But 7 other methods may work better given the construction site.
Surprisingly to some, dust control is a big part of almost all construction projects. Because dust is unavoidable unless you’re working in the frozen tundra. I’ll even go as fast as to say it’s a key part of the preparation of construction sites.
To point out, the general rule of the thumb is to impact the least amount of area with dust. So you want to reduce construction dust as much as you possibly can.
Otherwise, there’s potential for air and water pollution. To make matters worse, dust can travel far distances on land and in the air.
What’s more, in most contracts, contractors are liable for all damages from dust. This is why so many dust control methods exist.
The following are some construction project types where dust control is necessary:
- Roads and tunnels
- Water and wastewater treatment plants
- Large building complexes
Now, before we cover the 8 dust control methods, I’m going to list general dust guidelines.
Important Note: dust from construction sites also 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 these general guidelines with every construction project. They’re no-brainers to follow, and they’ll reduce your dust control mitigation costs.
#1 For large project sites, first test a small area with your selected dust control method. See how it works, before you use it on your entire project.
#2 Treat areas early in the day if you think the dust will pick up later on. You’ll prevent problems later in the day as the temperature rises and vehicle traffic increases.
#3 Limit ALL vehicle speeds on dusty roads.
#4 Limit vehicle travel on high wind days.
#5 Follow manufacturer’s specifications for all dust control methods.
#6 Tillage provides great emergency dust control.
#7 Use sticky floor mats at entrances to construction areas.
#8 For construction trailers on-site, tape all doors except those used for access. Also, cover storage materials.
#9 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 over the 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. Because some project sites are windier, while others are more humid and hot.
Method #1: water
This is easily the most common method used for dust control. It’s cheap and it works great.
So what’s not to love?!
Spray trucks will 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 it’ll create mud or flooding on public streets. The mud and flooding can become safety hazards for drivers.
Also, don’t use too much water, as excess water will erode patches of your land. You can have runoff issues too, where you have more water than the land can absorb. The excess water then runs off to neighboring areas and may cause damage.
What’s more, spray water is critical during demolition. This helps reduce airborne particles when heavy machines are firing on all cylinders.
Important Note: for many projects, you need to use recycled water. A lot of time, customers provide recycled water at no extra charge for dust control.
For example, at wastewater treatment plants this is a very common practice to use recycled water.
Method #2: barriers
Barricading your entire construction site to the outside world isn’t practical.
BUT, you can smartly position your barricades to control the dust.
Physical tall standing barriers help prevent wind near the ground. This then prevents the dust from blowing off your site.
So, in most instances, you’re not preventing dust, but containing it. At the same time though, you can help prevent wind erosion.
These barriers are typically board fences made from wood. But you can use any other solid material you can get your hands on, such as the following:
- Snow fencing
- Burlap fencing
- Crate walls
Even trees and tall grass can serve as barriers if they’re in the right spot. Because the end goal is to simply block incoming wind from kicking up dust.
For placement, you need to install the barriers at right angles to the wind’s direction. Also, you want to avoid gaps in the barriers, as that’ll defeat the purpose.
To point out, I don’t commonly see barriers used because of the unpredictability of wind. If the wind direction changes all of a sudden, your barrier can become useless.
Plus, it takes a lot of effort to install barriers, especially for large project sites. Then imagine having to move them around on a whim because of weather changes.
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. The roots of the grass will work their way into the soil, helping hold the soil together.
Just grow your grass or whatever else in areas where you won’t excavate. Maybe in an area where there will only be a lot of foot traffic. Then set it and forget it.
This way, the dust can’t go airborne. Also, you won’t have erosion issues from using excess water as highlighted in Method #1.
The only thing is, with vegetation, you’ll need to constantly water it. This can become a time sink if you don’t have an irrigation system set up. Plus, you need to be careful you don’t overwater. Otherwise, you’ll have the same erosion problem.
A popular technique used by construction teams is hydroseeding.
Hydroseeding is a planting process where you spray a mix of seeds and mulch. A truck carrying a tank of the mix will spray the land. It’s a simple easy process used for plant growth.
Method #4: application of polymer for soil stabilization
Have you ever driven by a construction site and seen a green material spread everywhere? If yes, you’ve seen the application polymers.
You spray binding agents from water trucks, 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.
In other words, when you add polymers to the soil, soil particles will bond together. This creates an impermeable barrier to even water.
As a result, the wind can’t pick up the dust and blow it off. Thus, this helps prevent soil structure degradation, erosion, too. Because the soil will naturally move much less.
Certain dust control polymers can last several years after application. This is a huge selling point for large engineering projects. Projects that can stretch on for years. Because, unlike water, you don’t need to spray the ground daily.
You use this method in areas with very light vehicle traffic. Because heavy vehicles can disrupt the soil.
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. The roads where large trucks drive through.
In fact, most project sites I visit use stones for their roadways.
Because a lot of heavy vehicle traffic can quickly engulf an entire area with dust. Especially if the road isn’t flat and a truck is bouncing up and down.
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 are all used for dust control, wind erosion, and soil stabilization.
How it works is, they absorb moisture from the air. As a result, roads or dust-prone areas will remain damp. This way, dust is less likely to swirl into the air, even in dry hot summer conditions.
What’s more, these binding agents help bind aggregate particles together. In return, this makes the ground surface harder.
This further prevents airborne dust from heavy winds and constant vehicle traffic.
To point out, in concentrated amounts, binding agents can become corrosive. They can also seep into groundwater, causing problems.
Thus, always first check if binding agents are an option to use in your construction area. Because it is 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.
Method #7: tillage
By using chisel plows on soil, deep tillage brings soil clod to the surface. The trenching with your plow should be a minimum of 6-inches.
This new surface material that was once underground, will now cover your dust. Thus, you’ll prevent dust from swirling up and becoming airborne.
The only catch is, you can only tillage in mostly 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, with the dust going in places you don’t want.
For this reason, invest in sweeping and cleaning equipment. This is especially important for large project sites.
Because you’ll have different construction areas that are more prone to airborne dust. And none of the dust control methods are perfect.
In the end, do whatever you can to best 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 to successfully control dust. Plus, you may need to use a combination of these methods.
But if done right, you can eliminate many future problems.
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.