Health effects from Sahara dust episodes in Europe: literature review and research gaps

Environ Int. 2012 Oct 15;47:107-14. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2012.06.012. Epub 2012 Jul 15.


The adverse consequences of particulate matter (PM) on human health have been well documented. Recently, special attention has been given to mineral dust particles, which may be a serious health threat. The main global source of atmospheric mineral dust is the Sahara desert, which produces about half of the annual mineral dust. Sahara dust transport can lead to PM levels that substantially exceed the established limit values. A review was undertaken using the ISI web of knowledge database with the objective to identify all studies presenting results on the potential health impact from Sahara dust particles. The review of the literature shows that the association of fine particles, PM₂.₅, with total or cause-specific daily mortality is not significant during Saharan dust intrusions. However, regarding coarser fractions PM₁₀ and PM₂.₅₋₁₀ an explicit answer cannot be given. Some of the published studies state that they increase mortality during Sahara dust days while other studies find no association between mortality and PM₁₀ or PM₂.₅₋₁₀. The main conclusion of this review is that health impact of Saharan dust outbreaks needs to be further explored. Considering the diverse outcomes for PM₁₀ and PM₂.₅₋₁₀, future studies should focus on the chemical characterization and potential toxicity of coarse particles transported from Sahara desert mixed or not with anthropogenic pollutants. The results of this review may be considered to establish the objectives and strategies of a new European directive on ambient air quality. An implication for public policy in Europe is that to protect public health, anthropogenic sources of particulate pollution need to be more rigorously controlled in areas highly impacted by the Sahara dust.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Africa, Northern
  • Air Pollutants / analysis*
  • Air Pollutants / toxicity
  • Air Pollution / statistics & numerical data
  • Dust / analysis*
  • Environmental Exposure / statistics & numerical data*
  • Europe
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Weather*


  • Air Pollutants
  • Dust