Ask the Architect

The harmful effects of industrial dust


Q. We read your column on asbestos, and ours sounds like the same kind of problem. Our son is working for a tile flooring company, doing large installations. He spends hours, at times, cutting tile and even grinding concrete, which has started to worry us. He comes home with fine dust in his clothes and hair, and it concerns us that he’s inhaling that dust. Is a paper dust mask enough for this kind of job, and do you know if there are safety requirements? He just got a respirator, but I’m seeing on the internet that that may not be enough. Is it safe to be working around this dust?

A We should all be are aware of building safety and report dangerous conditions. It is a similar problem, between asbestos and silica dust from mixing, cutting or drilling using tools, even walk-behind saws, for tile, concrete or stucco. When these materials are mechanically cut, tooled or ground up, it releases crystalline silica into the air, causing serious and possibly fatal consequences.

For many years, workers have been exposed to dust, whether from burning, grinding, cutting or routing, and serious health problems have led to tougher regulations. For those who feel that regulations should be limited or abolished, remember that inhaling particulates that were not properly tested at the World Trade Center recovery site, for example, led to grief, illness and painful death for rescuers and civilians who showed up for work that fateful day. The cost of medical attention and restitution to families far outweighs the cost of prevention. Who needs to suffer when we can prevent it in the first place?

Building occupants, especially during a renovation, should also be aware of rules and procedures. When dust is airborne, it’s a potential health hazard. In June 2017, new rules were enacted by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, which you can find at several sites on the internet. Note that dust containment is a critical factor, using water spray mist, dust shrouds (collectors) and/or high-efficiency particulate air, or HEPA, filtration during any kind of handling of materials producing dust particles.

Recently, a client told me their next-door neighbor was upset and threatening legal action because vinyl siding was placed over asbestos shingles. They wanted to know if there was potential for serious or even fatal results from the siding being done. Unfortunately, without testing the air during the work, there is little way to know, especially because the process of installing vinyl siding over asbestos shingles normally includes shooting nails into half-inch-thick polystyrene boards covering the shingles, limiting the release of dust. The vinyl further creates a barrier, and rain and wind minimize the amount of dust remaining. Familiarize yourself with the regulations, and as long as procedures, including spray mist, HEPA filtration with vacuuming and air testing are done, the site should be secure.

© 2018 Monte Leeper. Readers are encouraged to send questions to, with “Herald question” in the subject line, or to Herald Homes, 2 Endo Blvd., Garden City, NY 11530, Attn: Monte Leeper, architect.