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Work done during a recent remodel generated lots of concrete dust in my mother's home. The house has a concrete slab foundation. New vinyl wood flooring was installed, and the installers had to grind down uneven spots on the concrete slab during installation. The concrete dust travelled through much of the house, including new carpet that had been installed just prior to the grinding, and the dust is also on the walls and surfaces throughout the house. I believe the workers had some sort of dust-collection device on the grinder, although the dust was still significant. She didn't realize that the grinding work was going to take place, nor the extent of the dust and its possible health impacts.

My mother is concerned about her safety, given that components in concrete dust can be carcinogenic. She was able to vacuum thoroughly with vacuum with a hepa filter several times. The flooring company that did the work was contacted and the owner said the carpet should be clean and safe now (although they of course may be biased).

How big of a concern is this type of situation? Is there an efficient and effective way to clean the walls and other home surfaces? Are there any other considerations relevant to mitigating concrete dust?

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    As with most dust that can be a health hazard, it is the amount breath in and the amount of time it is breath in. Vacuuming and a wet wipe down should remove it. The ones that did the grinding should have made sure the dust was contained to the room and removed it. Would not give them 5 stars.
    – crip659
    Jul 29 at 22:19
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    If it's as bad as you say, depending where you live, you might consider having her contact a lawyer. Rules for concrete and silica dust are pretty strict in most developed countries and fines for allowing dust to pollute the entire house could be severe (in the tens of thousands of dollars). This seems like pure negligence on the part of the contractors.
    – J...
    Jul 30 at 13:13
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    As a side note, if the contractors made such a basic error as taking no steps to mitigate concrete dust, this calls the quality of the rest of their work into question. I'd inspect their work very carefully, or retain someone else to do it. Jul 30 at 17:33
  • I don't want to alarm you unnecessarily but you might want to look into whether there was historically any phosphorous mining in the area and whether slag from that was used in building foundations. This is the kind of thing to look for: siphidaho.org/comhealth/slag.php
    – JimmyJames
    Jul 30 at 21:20
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My layperson's view:

The link between silica dust and lung cancer exists primarily in industrial settings (mine, refinishing, construction).

The people who grind down the concrete in their usual workday are the ones who are at risk. It's a occupational risk.

After proper cleaning, as you have done, the risk is low to the resident. Concrete dust settles well: keep wiping surfaces regularly with a moist cloth, while airing the home.

Keep using a vacuum with a two or 3-stage fine dust filter to prevent vacuumed dust from re-entering the space.

Also, upgrade the furnace filter to one with fine dust rating. Inspect it every month for the first year: you may need to replace it monthly first, then perhaps every 3 months, but keep inpsecting it monthly.

The amount of dust collected will diminish over time.

There are no toxic fumes that are being released slowly.

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It's not a major hazard (unlike asbestos). If you live in a big city, its not uncommon to find your car coated with similar dust from construction and demolition work. The risk is primarily to the construction workers who are continuously exposed to such dust in the air throughout their working lives, and to miners with much greater exposure in the confined space down mines.

Silica dust is also created naturally by windblown sand in deserts, and it is sometimes carried thousands of miles on the wind (for example, from the Sahara to coat one's car in London).

I'd suggest that after you have aired out the house, washed down the hard surfaces and hoovered soft ones, there's no risk left to you from any dust that has settled down in cracks and crevices.

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    That's generally the case but in some areas of the US, radioactive phosphorous slag was mixed in to concrete used for foundations. If the OP's mother is in an area where this was done, we would hope it was known. I don't know the specifics of the dangers but I know there are government programs to help homeowners deal with even undisturbed foundations of this type (I think by venting, mainly)
    – JimmyJames
    Jul 30 at 21:12
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There are two theoretical dangers here, pneumoconiosis (that is, damage to the lungs caused by the dust), and simple acute respiratory irritation.

Pneumoconiosis is the generalized medical term for chronic respiratory problems caused by exposure to certain types of dust, and the same damage caused by this is what causes some types of lung cancer. All forms of pneumocnoiosis are very much only a long-term exposure thing however. You don’t get asbestiosis (the form caused by asbestos) by just breathing in a few asbestos fibers one time, you get it by breathing in the fibers on a regular basis over the course of years or even decades. The same applies to silicosis and chalicosis (the forms that would be a potential threat here), so you can safely discount this unless your mother plans to suddenly become a mason. In fact, if she uses baby powder regularly, she’s at more risk from that (talc is just as nasty as silica dust) than she would be from this. The people who did the work though do have to worry about this if such work is a regular part of their jobs.

Acute respiratory inflammation is a much more likely issue, especially if your mother already has respiratory problems (such as asthma or COPD). Once the dust has largely settled though, this is not a significant issue provided you don’t go around intentionally stirring it up. Just keep vacuuming and wiping things down with a damp cloth, and everything should be fine.


On a side note, if the dust actually did end up all over the house, I would not suggest using that same company again (and in fact, I would actively complain to them about it, you may get a partial reimbursement for the work if you complain loud enough and the company is worried enough about customer satisfaction). It is very much possible to safely do this kind of work and keep the dust localized to only the area where the work was happening, and even keep it to a relatively small amount in that area, it’s just time consuming and more expensive to do things this way. If the company is cutting corners on safety stuff like this, then you have to wonder where else they are cutting corners, especially considering that this type of thing is a safety issue for their own workers.

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  • Keeping dust localized in a construction setting is difficult, and even a closed door isn't going to work perfectly. The best way to work would be to empty the house (remove all inhabitants, furniture and so) until works end, but that isn't usually convenient for customers.
    – Pere
    Aug 1 at 9:05
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I had this kind of thing happen to me except it was silica from tile and them misplacing fans that ended up blowing the dust throughout the house. Note it was a water loss so the fans were to dry the area out. How do I know it went throughout the house? Because we spent a lot of money having tests done as it turned legal (also had mold spread throughout). So I've had to deal with some people that clean this for a living and act as experts on silica within many court proceedings.

With that said, I wouldn't worry about it too much. From what those experts told me, EVERY house when first built has silica dust. It's natural due to build process. the other thing, yes, it can be very dangerous...in high quantities. There is a legal level set by OSHA in the US but trust me, no way your house is high enough. Also, silica generally is dense and falls and becomes part of normal dust on surfaces. it only becomes air born if severely disturbed. How do I know this? Because when they did the air test they used a high powered leaf blower in my house against the walls to get as much as they could and still didn't get hardly anything. However if it is breathed in, it can get stuck in your lungs and it can't ever come back out. However, the little that happened to you won't have lasting damage at all. People work in that kind of dust cloud all the time and it takes years before they may develop issues.

As to cleaning, just vacuum, dust, and wash the walls (microfiber and water only is needed). It's not as effective as hiring a professional but as long as the vac is a true hepavac (.3 micron size filter). But you decide. clean yourself and spend a bunch of time or hire someone and pay upwards of like 100k to get everything clean (never mind 10-15k in professional testing to know it's clean) (yes, that much; hence why I mentioned earlier my case went the legal route)

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  • Thanks for sharing a personal experience - good to get that perspective. Glad to hear the air test in your house yielded below-OSHA levels; that sounds similar to this situation.
    – Evan
    Aug 2 at 16:52
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We all have different strengths and weaknesses. Some of us can tolerate more pollutants than others can. However, we should not press our luck, because there are so many variables.

A large part of concrete is made from sand. That sand contains silica. Cutting it and grinding it releases those particles in the air which you can breathe without proper protection.

Most studies say it takes 5-20 years to be affected. However, it has been shown to affect workers in a few months depending on exposure. If the dust is in your house I’d have it cleaned and removed. Here’s an article that explains it better:

https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/97-101/pdfs/97-101.pdf?id=10.26616/NIOSHPUB97101

Once destroyed, lung tissue does not grow back. If you’ve been exposed, I’d go to a pulmonologist and get a test.

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    Silicosis is the disease caused by the mineral silica.
    – MTA
    Jul 30 at 12:49
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    "That sand has silicon."
    – Nayuki
    Jul 30 at 15:15
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Yes, very dangerous. "Grey lung" is the name. Get a p100, n95s I think are rated only for 4 hrs. If nothing else, use a t-shirt (better than n95 imho.) Also, in my area (Nw Hampshire) they recently discovers higher rates of Uranium in Granite (the typical aggregate in concrete. Concrete can give you, and DID give me, chemical burns--image what it does to your lungs!

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    t-shirt better than n95 ? Then throwing in radioactivity where physical and chemical properties are the main danger ?
    – Jeffrey
    Jul 30 at 16:48
  • yup. it covers your whole face and neck, otherwise when you come out and take the mask off all that crap get everywhere. (technically, it is not better, I know). cdc.gov/nceh/radiation/building.html. It is now illegal to dry-cut stone or brick in the US AFAIK, except maybe on scab jobs. Jul 31 at 18:42

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