/ does climber's chalk dust affect health?

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BolderLicious - on 11 Jan 2013
Does chalk dust climbers use affect health?
tlm - on 11 Jan 2013
In reply to BolderLicious:

I don't know, but that would be a much better project for a student than some of the ones that we see on here....
cuppatea on 11 Jan 2013
In reply to BolderLicious:

Breathing in a fine powder isn't generally recommended. Chalk is probably less damaging than MDF or asbestos.
BolderLicious - on 11 Jan 2013
In reply to cuppatea:
Isn't chalk included in some medicines that neutralise stomach acid?
LastBoyScout on 11 Jan 2013
In reply to BolderLicious:

I hope I don't have any stomach acid in my lungs!
getandy - on 11 Jan 2013
In reply to BolderLicious: one lungful of chalky air is meant to be worse for you than smoking a whole deck of fags
getandy - on 11 Jan 2013
In reply to BolderLicious: its an alkali for a start as well as not being organic. It is not real chalk it is syntetic and has similar affect to smoking in that it dries and shriveles your lungs.
BolderLicious - on 11 Jan 2013
In reply to getandy:
Im glad I gave up chalky air!
It was a hard habit to kick.
mkean - on 11 Jan 2013
In reply to cuppatea:
Breathing in a fine powder isn't generally recommended.

Inhaling chalk dust probably isn't a great idea but I don't think you will be inhaling much. You'd want an aerodynamic particle size of less than about 5um for deep lung penetration, anything else will get cleared out pretty effectively or just get swallowed. I am not convinced chalk dust contains a significant proportion of this very fine particulate matter.

Chalk is also pretty inert and not an unfriendly shape.
cuppatea on 11 Jan 2013
In reply to mkean:

Ack! My unqualified gut feeling advice has been trumped by science.

Is all about particule size, or chemical composition? Is chalk that's been in a chalkbag for a long time less safe as it may be ground down to a finer powder?
Be careful out there.
BolderLicious - on 11 Jan 2013
In reply to cuppatea:
chalk that's been in a chalk bag for a long time may have reacted chemically with acid rain and car fumes.Who knows where that leads.
pebbles - on 11 Jan 2013
In reply to BolderLicious: I'v still got an open book on whether getting chalk dust under a contact lens was the cause of mystery chemical burns on my cornea! healed completely in 3 days, but alarming and extremely painful - this was the only alkali we could think of I had been in contact with
BolderLicious - on 11 Jan 2013
In reply to pebbles:
Alkalis like chalk are worse than acid for eye damage.
Cement is bad too-I used to work in a cement laboratory and always
had goggles on.
Dave Garnett - on 11 Jan 2013
In reply to getandy:
> (In reply to BolderLicious) its an alkali for a start as well as not being organic. It is not real chalk it is syntetic and has similar affect to smoking in that it dries and shriveles your lungs.

I think if it got to the stage of shrivelling your lungs you would notice.

Most of the long-term problems with inhaling nasty particles are linked with them being insoluble and being difficult to clear (especially if they are too big to be ingested by the cells doing the clearing up). 'Chalk' (light magnesium carbonate) should be pretty soluble, assuming it's pure, but might have little bits of something else in it.

It's slightly basic but not really an alkali. However, (having written a jokey article on 'chalk climbers' lung' for a club magazine so long ago that chalk was still actually controversial) I think it can sometimes set off my asthmatic cough if I breathe too much of it.

Walls take this much more seriously than they used to and usually clear it up and insist on use of chalk balls rather than loose powder. As industrial pollutants go I don't think it's a big worry, but if there's a lurking long-incubation period disease brewing, it's probably going to show any time now!
Muel - on 11 Jan 2013
In reply to BolderLicious:

I dunno about the science behind it, but when I go to the Foundry I always end up with a pretty bad cough the day after... It is a very dusty place.
adstapleton - on 11 Jan 2013
In reply to BolderLicious:

You don't really need chalk - it's just a myth perpetuated by chalk companies to make gullible climbers waste their money on something.

Try cutting down - you'll be surprised at how much you actually don't need it...
kipper12 - on 11 Jan 2013
In reply to mkean:
> (In reply to cuppatea)
> Breathing in a fine powder isn't generally recommended.
>
> Inhaling chalk dust probably isn't a great idea but I don't think you will be inhaling much. You'd want an aerodynamic particle size of less than about 5um for deep lung penetration, anything else will get cleared out pretty effectively or just get swallowed.

You are spot-on, it is the particle size distribution (MMAD) that determines where an airoorn particle will deposit in the lung, with 5 microns and less penetrating the deep lung. Above 100 microns particles are regarded as non respirable. If you can see the dust aerosol, as you often can at a chalky climbing wall, it is well above 100 microns and not inhalable. A bit may get stuck up your nose, but that's about it.
Landy_Dom on 11 Jan 2013
In reply to BolderLicious:

To add another dimension to this debate - I do not know about the breathing in side of things, but I do know that chalky trousers + sweaty legs + tendancy to excema = itching and pain.
Giles Davis - on 11 Jan 2013
In reply to kipper12:

This is basically correct, however I would add that any analysis of a fine powder such as climbing chalk would show a bell curve that reveals a fraction of the powder in the respirable range. If you continue to inhale this over a long period of time there is a small risk of a silicosis / pneumoconiosis type respiratory illness which would obviously be exacerbated through smoking (widely regarded as being responsible for synergystic effects with respiratory diseases).

As a climber, walker and Safety Professional I have always wondered why indoor bouldering and climbing walls are not routinely fitted with extraction systems. These systems need not be expensive as you only really need to create an airflow through the area to remove particles in the sub 10 micron respirable range.
abzmed on 11 Jan 2013
In reply to Fuerteman:

and kipper12.

There is usually a lot of finely ground up rubber particles mixed in with the chalk to be seen lurking all the upper surfaces of holds / nooks and cranny places.

Also, the prior utilisation of some of the buildings (Foundry) might give some clue as to other "nasties" that may be lurking and released into the air from long standing deposits of dirt / dust.

As previous posts say, it's all about size (respirable)

Jimbo C - on 11 Jan 2013
In reply to BolderLicious:

On my box of chalk blocks it gives a chemical composition breakdown and has an asterisk against the silica content saying something along the lines of a crystalline silica content of over 1% is bad for your lungs (the content listed is around 0.04%)
kipper12 - on 11 Jan 2013
In reply to Fuerteman:
> (In reply to kipper12)
>
Before any controls are implemented, shouldn't a risk assessment be carried out first. This is the usual way round. That said, it certainly would be intersting to know what actual exposures are like at climbing walls.
JdotP - on 11 Jan 2013
In reply to BolderLicious:

Probably carcinogenic, but what isn't carcinogenic these days?
Giles Davis - on 11 Jan 2013
In reply to kipper12:

Yes, but if you carried out a risk assessment you'd definitely determine there was a "Reasonably foreseeable risk" of someone experiencing a respiratory illness/disease from exposure to the said dust (or exacerbating an existing condition - e.g. climbing wall employees) therefore your hierarchy of control would go;

Eliminate
Substitute
Engineering Control
Administration Control (training/information/training etc.)
PPE

I jumped straight to Engineering Controls (Extraction System) because I can't see an indoor climbing wall being successful if they eliminate/ban chalk and substitution to liquid chalk . . . . . well, liquid chalk will dry out leaving dust behind on the surfaces / crash mats etc.
getandy - on 11 Jan 2013
In reply to Dave Garnett: yeah but guess you dont inhale enough to do any real damage. Only know from an article I read about it a while back. Had a good look but couldnt seem to find it, not sure where its at?
Giles Davis - on 11 Jan 2013
In reply to abzmed:

Yes, good point. I've always thought what was in amongst the chalk dust that's all colected at the top of indoor routes on the beams etc. whilst topping out.

Before anyone accuses me of "bleedin elf and safety" the risk is very very low and won't put me off training indoors but it is easily controlled with extraction systems.
Monk - on 11 Jan 2013
In reply to getandy:
> (In reply to BolderLicious) its an alkali for a start as well as not being organic. It is not real chalk it is syntetic and has similar affect to smoking in that it dries and shriveles your lungs.

Smoking isn't bad for you because it dries and shrivels your lungs, it is bad for you because it fills your lungs with gunk, ccarbon monoxide and relatively high concentrations of carcinogens. Chalk does none of those things, but still has no place in the lungs. I would imagine that chalk dust is probably too large to penetrate much further than the main airways though.
Mark Morris - on 11 Jan 2013
In reply to BolderLicious: Very interesting discussion.

The black dust from rubber (I presume),was/is a worrying blow out from the nose at two of my local walls.

Chalk - seen everywhere, breathed in, but not thought of it as a health hazard - you can eat it can't you? Never thought of the lung issue.

One other issue that I've just thought of, after lots of problems in a school here in S. Wales is asbestos. A lot of the early walls were built in refurbished old churches or industrial buildings. I wonder what recognition was made to existing asbestos when some of the early walls were put up?

mark
xplorer on 11 Jan 2013
In reply to BolderLicious:

Climbing chalk is a chemical compound used in laxative. 2 tea spoons and you get Harry from dumb and dumber
stroppygob - on 11 Jan 2013
In reply to BolderLicious: Wow, someone's found something new to try to worry about...
JSA - on 11 Jan 2013
In reply to Fuerteman:

In a climbing wall it would have to be a bloody big LEV to create enough negative pressure to be effective at taking all the sub 5micron particulates out of the air.
JSA - on 11 Jan 2013
In reply to Mark Morris:
> (In reply to BolderLicious)
>
> One other issue that I've just thought of, after lots of problems in a school here in S. Wales is asbestos. A lot of the early walls were built in refurbished old churches or industrial buildings. I wonder what recognition was made to existing asbestos when some of the early walls were put up?
>
> mark

There will have been a survey done on the building and any asbestos will have been sampled in the lab for type, any that isn't damaged will have been encapsulated and any that is damaged will/should have been removed.
It would be virtually impossible in a climbing centre that's been runnung for some time to take air samples, the analyst wouldn't be able to read the filters.

CraigB - on 11 Jan 2013
In reply to BolderLicious:

I have sarcoidosis which affects my lungs. Before I started going to the wall again, I asked my consultant about the potential health risks, and he was confident that it wouldn't be a problem. I've been climbing two or three times a week over the past couple of years, and been fine.
Jamie Wakeham - on 11 Jan 2013
In reply to BolderLicious:
> (In reply to cuppatea)
> chalk that's been in a chalk bag for a long time may have reacted chemically with acid rain and car fumes. Who knows where that leads?

...anyone with a GCSE in Chemistry.
I like climbing - on 12 Jan 2013
In reply to BolderLicious:
I read that it causes Alzheimer's.
needvert on 12 Jan 2013
In reply to Mark Morris:

Yeah...Some walls use a kind of loose shredded rubber tile as floor padding. I do wonder, when my stuff is covered with presumably fragments of old tires, what inhalation of the smaller particles does to the wall staffs long term health.

As for chalk, I presume there would be a 'school teacher lung' link, teachers from the blackboard days inhale far more than a climber would!
[Whiteboards, same thing but the particles are just smaller...Wonder what they're made out of]
Graeme Alderson on 12 Jan 2013
In reply to tlm: I did my dissertation in 1993 - Airbourne Particulate Pollution at an inner city Climbing Wall, ie chalk dust at the Foundry.

Jan-Mar 1993 the Foundry averaged over 300 customers per day, to give you a clue how busy that is The Works hasn't averaged 300 per day for 3 months on the trot. Based on the particle size and the COSHH Regs the concerntration of dust in the air was not a health problem. It was however enough to possibly be an irritant.

At the time the US Environmental Protection Agency held not adverse information about Magnesium Carbonate BP (as the block chalk at the time was actually called). Modern chalk is either the same old stuff (eg Moon Dust) or has additives added (eg Metolius Super Chalk). I have no idea if the additives have any worrying constituents.

Interestingly chalk balls may be more of an issue as they produce a finer dust that could penetrate the smaller vessels in the lungs (the avioli?) but generally produce less dust than block chalk. As an aside any wall that claims loose chalk should be banned because of the health risk is IMHO talking bollocks
Bloodfire - on 12 Jan 2013
In reply to BolderLicious: So, your telling me that snorting lines of chalk before I climb is not actually helping me? damn!
Giles Davis - on 12 Jan 2013
In reply to JSA:

Hmm, not sure I understand your logic there. If sub 5 micron particles can move freely on air currents and successfully avoid all the defence mechanisms in your respiratory system (ciliated hair like cells, mucus lining, sharp bends/corners in the bronchi to increase the chance of impacts etc.) because they are so aerodynamic then why would the LEV system need to be large??

If you were trying to rid the air of sub 100 micron particles then I'd agree.
Dave Garnett - on 12 Jan 2013
In reply to Fuerteman:
All this modelling assumes the particles are insoluble and airways are dry though, doesn't it?

So, completely unlike inhaling magnesium carbonate particles then.
BolderLicious - on 12 Jan 2013
In reply to BolderLicious:
Does chalk pass through skin into the blood.I heard a doctor say that most things pass through the skin in small amounts.
BolderLicious - on 12 Jan 2013
In reply to needvert:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2011/nov/28/chalk-dust-health-research
"Though real-time airborne chalk dust generation was found to be low in this study and did not contain toxic materials, chalk dust could be harmful to allergic persons and may cause lacrimation and breathing troubles in the long run and certainly is a constant nuisance in classrooms as it may soil clothes, body parts, audiovisual aids and study materials."
Giles Davis - on 12 Jan 2013
In reply to Dave Garnett:

Not sure what exactly what you mean but magnesium carbonate is insoluble.
JSA - on 12 Jan 2013
In reply to Fuerteman:
There is an equation that determines the size of the LEV for the volume of air it needs to move, I can't remember exactly what it is but will have a look when I get in.
Giles Davis - on 12 Jan 2013
In reply to JSA:

perhaps I wasn't clear enough as I didn't mention LEV I mentioned an extraction system and all I meant by that was fans to move air in and out of the building (dilution ventilation) and that is all that is required to remove enough sub 5 micron particles to reduce the risk to insignificant for a normal healthy person.
ChrisJD on 12 Jan 2013
In reply to BolderLicious:

The main key health risk drivers with a climbing wall scenario would be:

1. The nuisance/irritant issues associated with Inhalable Dust [HSE term] (total airborne dust/particulate-matter[PM]) from all dust sources

2. Chronic (long term) health risks associated with respirable dust [HSE term] (typically taken as the PM10 fraction of inhalable dust). The finer PM2.5 fraction is typically thought to be of most concern.

3. Chronic health risks associated with substances in the PM10 fraction, which would include substances in climbing chalk (primarily MgCO3)

I'd expect acute risk associated with 1 & 2 to be negligible (when compared with the chronic risk).

The primary sensitive receptors would be:

1. Workers at the wall
2. Users of the wall

There is a legal duty (Health & Safety at Work Act etc) on employers to protect the health safety and welfare of workers and the public (which would include wall users).

The main workplace H&S regulation (relevant for workers at a business such as a wall) that covers dust is COSHH (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations), which uses a set of legally binding Workplace Exposure Limits (WELs) laid out in EH40 (most recently updated in 2011):

http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/priced/eh40.pdf

Under COSSH/EH40, dust levels would become legally unacceptable for a workplace at the following concentrations:

- Inhalable dust 8 Hour TWA (time weighted average): 10 mg/m
- Respirable dust 8 Hour TWA: 4 mg/m

EH40 also contains a number of dust WELs for specified substances, but not currently MgCO3(though CaCaO3 is listed and uses the same 10 & 4 mg/m WELs). There are also 5 WELs for different types of silica/silicon dust. Although there is a WEL for 'rubber process dust', this does not apply to dusts arising from the abrasion of cured rubber and the general dusts WELs should be adopted for dust containing abraded rubber.

It wouldn't be best practice to automatically adopt WELS for users of the wall (essentially an 'involuntary risk' to a member of the public) and this would be a good topic of discussion with the HSE and Health Protection Agency (HPA). My view is that it would probably require a separate assessment to demonstrate acceptable risk to users, given the lower level of acceptable risk typically afforded to the public, compared with workers. For example, the UK PM10 air quality standard is 0.05 mg/m3 (2 orders of magnitude lower than the WEL)

However, if the wall levels are below EH40 levels, then I'd be surprised if a typical user would be at unacceptable risk (from a HPA standpoint, not a climbers world view) given the relatively limited exposure time for most wall users. Wall rats 'may' be a different issue (again, from a HPA standpoint).
deepsoup - on 12 Jan 2013
In reply to BolderLicious:

Climbing chalk and blackboard chalk are completely different substances though. The stuff you write on a blackboard with is actually gypsum (aka plaster of paris).
Bulls Crack - on 12 Jan 2013
In reply to BolderLicious:
> Does chalk dust climbers use affect health?

I think all climbing wall staff look pale and pasty...so I suspect it's true.
deepsoup - on 12 Jan 2013
In reply to Bulls Crack:
> I think all climbing wall staff look pale and pasty...so I suspect it's true.

The staff at the Climbing Works are a picture of health, vitality and athleticism. (Well, except for that Graeme Alderson bloke, but you can't have everything can you? ;o)
BolderLicious - on 12 Jan 2013
In reply to BolderLicious:
How healthy are people who work in open caste chalk mines?

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