Skip to main content

Saharan dust clouds and human health in the English-speaking Caribbean: what we know and don’t know


Dust clouds travel across the Atlantic to the Americas and the Caribbean Islands. This long-range transport of dust leads to clouds that are enriched with small particles less than 10 µm aerodynamic diameter (PM10) which can reach human airways. The dust clouds also bring pollen, microbes, insects and chemicals, all of which could potentially have a negative impact on human health. This has led to a small number of retrospective studies being conducted on the islands of Barbados and Trinidad to look at possible associations between dust cover and acute asthma admissions to Emergency Rooms. The results have been conflicting. This review examines these studies, offers possible explanations for the differences in results, and suggests that there is a need for a prospective Caribbean-wide study to assess fully any relationship between African dust clouds and human respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3


  1. Blades, E. D., Mathison, G. E., Lavoie, M., Prospero, J. M., Thani, H., Kimes, D., & Levine, E. (2005). African dust, pollen and fungal spores as possible airborne allergens over Barbados. Journal of Allergy & Clinical Immunology, 115(2, suppl.1), S305.

  2. Blades, E., Naidu, R., & Mathison, G. (1998). The microbiological analysis of Saharan dust and its association with asthma in Barbados. The West Indian Medical Journal, 47(suppl 2), 34–36.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Delfino, R., Sioutas, C., & Malik, S. (2005). Potential role of ultrafine particle in associations between airborne particle mass and cardiovascular health. Environmental Health Perspectives, 113(8), 934–946.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Dockery, D. W., Pope, C. A., Xiping, X., Spengler, J. D., Ware, J. H. et al. (1993). An association between air pollution and mortality in six U.S. Cities. The New England Journal of Medicine, 329(24), 1753–1759.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  5. Griffin, D. W., Kellogg, C. A., & Shinn, E. A. (2001). Dust in the Wind: Long range transport of dust in the atmosphere and its implications for global transport and ecosystems. Global Change & Human Health, 2(1), 20–30.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Griffin, D. W., Kellogg, C. A., Garrison, V. H., & Shinn, E. A. (2002). The global transport of dust. American Scientist, 90, 228–235.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Gyan, K., Henry, W., Lacaille, S., Laloo, A., Lamsee-Ebanks, C., McKay, S., Antoine R. M., & Monteil, M. A. (2005). African dust clouds are associated with increased paediatric asthma accident and emergency admissions on the Caribbean island of Trinidad. International Journal of Biometeorology, 49(6), 371–376.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  8. Ivey, M. A., Simeon, D. T., & Monteil, M.A. (2003). Climatic variables are associated with seasonal asthma admissions to accident and emergency room facilities in Trinidad, West Indies. Clinical & Experimental Allergy, 33(11), 1526–1530.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  9. Low, R. B., Bielory, L., Qureshi, A. I., Dunn, V., Stuhlmiller, D. F. E., & Dickey, D. A. (2006). The relation of stroke admissions to recent weather, airborne allergens, air pollution, seasons, upper respiratory infections, and asthma incidence, September 11, 2001 and day of the week. Stroke, 37, 951–957.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Mohammed, A., Agard, J., & Monteil, M. (2005). Can Saharan dust from Africa cause asthma in Trinidad? UWI Today. Retrieved from

  11. Peters, A., Dockery, D. W., Muller, J. E., & Mittleman, M. A. (2001). Increased particulate air pollution and the triggering of myocardial infarction. Circulation, 103, 2810–2815.

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  12. Prospero, J. M. (1999). Long-range transport of mineral dust in the atmosphere: Impact of African dust on the environment of the southeastern United States. Proceedings of the National Acadamic of Science, 96, 3396–3403.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  13. Prospero, J. M., Blades, E., Mathison, G., Lavoie, M., & Thani, H. (2005). Relationship between asthma on Barbados and African dust in the trade winds. Journal of Allergy & Clinical Immunology, 115(2, suppl.1), S30.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Raikumar, W. S., & Chang, A. S. (2000). Suspended particulate concentrations along the East-West-Corridor. Trinidad. West Indies. Atmospheric Environment, 34, 1181–1197.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Shinn, E. A. (2001). African dust causes widespread environmental distress. USGS open file report 01–246, July 2001.

  16. Spix, C., Anderson, H. R., Schwartz, J., Vigotti, M. A., & LeTertre, A., et al. (1998). Short-term effects of air pollution on hospital admissions of respiratory diseases in Europe: a quantitative summary of APHEA study results. Air Pollution and Health: a European Approach. Archives of Environmental Health, 53(1), 54–64.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Viana, M., & Averol, X. (2007). Source apportionment of ambient PM 2.5 at 5 Spanish centres of the European community respiratory health survey (ECRHS II). Atmospheric Environment, 41(7), 1395–1406.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  18. Zanobetti, A., & Schwartz, J. (2006). Air pollution and emergency admissions in Boston, MA. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 60(10), 890–895.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Michele A. Monteil.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Monteil, M.A. Saharan dust clouds and human health in the English-speaking Caribbean: what we know and don’t know. Environ Geochem Health 30, 339–343 (2008).

Download citation


  • Accident & Emergency
  • Asthma
  • Barbados
  • Caribbean
  • Saharan dust clouds
  • Trinidad & Tobago