/ (Chalk) Dust at Indoor Bouldering Centres

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allarms on 13 Jan 2019

Is there such a condition as climbers lung?

I've noticed recently the air quality in the works is comparable to that of tearing down old plaster when renovating. 

When the low winter sun comes through the window the level of dust in the air becomes visible and I can't help but wonder if in 10 years time people are going to start noticing the effects of chalk inhalation.

Has anything been done to look into this? Not just at the works but at indoor bouldering walls in general.

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SenzuBean - on 13 Jan 2019
In reply to allarms:

I'm probably as equally worried about rubber dust as chalk dust. Perhaps the combination is worse than either individually! Luckily my bouldering wall has some kind of filtering system in place now, so there's very little of that horrid dust you find at the top of the wall.

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muppetfilter - on 13 Jan 2019
In reply to allarms:

There are a group of industrial illnesses caused by the inhalation of dust, there are a few bouldering centres and climbing walls I can think of where the staff should probably be wearing filter masks under Coshh regs and HSE legislation due to exposure duration and frequency.

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mountain.martin - on 13 Jan 2019
In reply to allarms:

I climbed at the works last week and had the same thoughts. I imagine many bouldering centres are similar. I only tend to go to bouldering walls once a month or so, but if I was going several times a week, or if I worked in one I would be concerned. 

Although I've no idea if that concern would be justified?

Post edited at 17:54
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FactorXXX - on 13 Jan 2019
In reply to allarms:

My understanding is that the particle size is too big to be absorbed into the parts of the lung that could cause any long lasting damage.
Instead, it is either passed into the stomach, or deposited in the mucus.

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thepodge on 13 Jan 2019
In reply to allarms:

They could least clean the windowsill behind the corner of the comp board, there's enough chalk back there to challenge Friction Labs for market dominance. 

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Jon Stewart - on 13 Jan 2019
In reply to SenzuBean:

> I'm probably as equally worried about rubber dust

Is that a thing?

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LucaC - on 13 Jan 2019
In reply to allarms:

As a purely anecdotal piece of evidence, I suffered from really badly blocked ears one spring after working full time at a boulder wall. After a consultation with an otolaryngologist, she asked what on earth did I do for a job, because my ears were so full of dust stuck to wax. I explained the wall environment and she was under no illusion it was caused by anything else. 

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Tom F Harding on 13 Jan 2019

When I started climbing, my two local walls had a ban on loose chalk - you had to use a chalk ball instead to reduce the dust. Does anywhere enforce this anymore? 

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gravy - on 13 Jan 2019

The ear thing is very common - clean your fingers before you pick your ears!

Cleaning the centre (including the dust traps on top of the boulders) does go along way to fixing this - shitty chalky walls are not inevitable!

 

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kipper12 - on 13 Jan 2019
In reply to FactorXXX:

> My understanding is that the particle size is too big to be absorbed into the parts of the lung that could cause any long lasting damage.

> Instead, it is either passed into the stomach, or deposited in the mucus.

True.  If the particle size is big enough to be seen in the air, it won’t get much further than your nose.  Particles need to be around 5 microns (mass median aerodynamic diameter) to penetrate to the deep lung.

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allarms on 13 Jan 2019
In reply to Tom F Harding:

Same for me, but I can't say it's something enforced anywhere I've been in recent memory. Chalk balls are a bit naff though I have to confess to not using one!

I think fully opening windows and decent Hoover's would go a long way to helping.

I'm not sure carpet works well as it holds the dust and hundreds of people constantly landing puffs it all into the air. 

Perhaps a maximum capacity would help as well but I can't see any business doing that unless they are forced too by legislation.

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Robert Durran - on 13 Jan 2019
In reply to allarms:

> Same for me, but I can't say it's something enforced anywhere I've been in recent memory. Chalk balls are a bit naff though I have to confess to not using one!

The trick where they are enforced is to cut them open to actually get the chalk out. An expensive way of buying chalk though.

 

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allarms on 13 Jan 2019
In reply to kipper12:

This is reassuring

Is there anything to say that chalk dust comes in a range of sizes, some visible some not? 

If I can see a large amount in the air, I would assume lots of the nasty invisible kind of dust is also present.

I genuinely found it difficult to breath in there!

 

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AlanLittle - on 13 Jan 2019
In reply to Tom F Harding:

My local wall has the chalk balls only rule: they don't check, I hate chalk balls and have ignored it for years. If I'm playing away and they have the rule I generally observe it because I don't know how strict they might be.

Found this study in the German Journal of Sports Medicine. https://www.zeitschrift-sportmedizin.de/feinstaubbelastung-beim-bouldern-und-sportklettern

It says among other things (my translation):

> Eine Pilotstudie mit 109 Kletterern ergab geringfügige Verschlechterungen der Lungenfunktion nach dem Klettern in Kletterhallen.

"A pilot study with 109 climbers showed minor/insignificant/negligible deterioration of lung function after climbing in climbing walls."

They go on to say that chalk balls don't reduce chalk dust in the air significantly, only liquid chalk (or a complete chalk ban) does, and that ventilation is just as important as the type of chalk used.

 

Post edited at 22:12
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tom_in_edinburgh - on 13 Jan 2019
In reply to kipper12:

> True.  If the particle size is big enough to be seen in the air, it won’t get much further than your nose.  Particles need to be around 5 microns (mass median aerodynamic diameter) to penetrate to the deep lung.

I wonder if these new expensive high-tech chalks are doing anything different with regard to particle size and ingredients which could mean they have different health and safety properties from boring old chalk.

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DenzelLN - on 13 Jan 2019
In reply to kipper12:

Sure about that? In my old job i spent years cutting concrete with a Stihl saw and diamond tipped blade, in some circumstances water couldn't be used as a suppressant and the dust was clearly visible - breathing that stuff in causes silicosis.

It is my understanding that any dust created from the grinding, cutting or crushing of rock is detrimental to health, not sure chalk comes under this?

Could be wrong, be interested to hear your views.

Rubber dust? Not sure rubber has the capacity to "dust" up and float around in the air? If it does we are all knackered, not from climbing shoe rubber but from the zillion of tires on cars that need replacing every other year.

Post edited at 22:19
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PaulJepson - on 13 Jan 2019
In reply to allarms:

I think there have been tests and all pointed to it being inert. It's not fibrous so is just absorbed into the system unlike things like asbestos.  

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tmn on 13 Jan 2019

Chalk is actually magnesium carbonate (MgCO3), which has several industrial applications (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magnesium_carbonate). Undoubtly, there must be a exposure to magnesium carbonate dust in some of these contexts and in theory corresponding work-related illnesses should be well known ...

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SenzuBean - on 14 Jan 2019
In reply to Jon Stewart:

> Is that a thing?

Of course! Rubber microplastic (from car tyres mind) is one of the biggest hidden sources of microplastics ending up in the ocean. The dust at a climbing wall if examined closely has little black particles mixed in

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Lurking Dave - on 14 Jan 2019
In reply to allarms:

Bouldering gyms in Australia have banned the wearing of chalk bags. You can have your bag or bucket on the floor (off the mat at busy times). I admit I was skeptical at first but it has made a huge improvement, good vacuuming and regular mopping also helps.

That said, in the 15 years that this has been discussed on this forum I cant recall anyone providing a link to show that chalk dust was problematic health wise.

Cheers

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timparkin - on 14 Jan 2019
allarms on 14 Jan 2019
In reply to timparkin:

Thanks, all though that is a study into dust levels and methods of reduction, it doesn't look into the long term health problems (if any) of exposure.

Early on it mentions some references to health studies I'll have a look at them when I have more time 

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MischaHY - on 14 Jan 2019
In reply to allarms:

Here in Germany we've had people in with a machine testing the 'Feinstaub' (Particulate matter) and apparently it's no bother - the particles in the chalk aren't small enough to enter the system so they just get caught in mucus etc. Your lungs are safe! 

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Neil Williams - on 14 Jan 2019
In reply to MischaHY:

I find excessive chalk dust gives me itchy eyes more than breathing problems, and I have asthma.

What it does do is make me really dislike "headtorch climbing nights" some walls do as I find the dust flying around the place, which is then quite visible, quite disorienting.

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Presley Whippet on 14 Jan 2019
In reply to allarms:

A paper was written quite a few years ago which concluded that chalk balls were more harmful to health than block or loose chalk. The particles from chalk balls are smaller than from loose chalk and can therefore make it deeper into your lungs.

Someone will undoubtedly provide a link soon.

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Rigid Raider - on 14 Jan 2019
In reply to allarms:

You wouldn't worry about chalk at all if you had any idea of the amount of dead skin that floats around in the air when humans assemble together. As you walk you leave a shower of it behind you.

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John Kettle - on 14 Jan 2019
In reply to allarms:

I find it reassuring that you can buy food-grade Magnesium Carbonate and eat it as a supplement.

My primary concerns at dusty walls is the amount of bacteria transported on the chalk dust (this is why weights gyms have extraction systems), and the drying agents in Metolius super chalk, which I know several wall employees have developed allergies to. They can tell you when someone in the room is using it by the burning feeling in their throat!

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Phil79 - on 14 Jan 2019
In reply to FactorXXX:

> My understanding is that the particle size is too big to be absorbed into the parts of the lung that could cause any long lasting damage.

> Instead, it is either passed into the stomach, or deposited in the mucus.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22767051

This paper provides some evidence that PM10 concentrations are pretty high at climbing walls, based on some monitoring. If that's the case then it suggests that particle size of climbing chalk is small enough to enter the lungs, and is therefore at least a potential health risk.

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johncook - on 14 Jan 2019
In reply to John Kettle:

Food grade chalk is also cheaper than the stuff at climbing walls/shops.

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teapot - on 14 Jan 2019
In reply to allarms:

A random bloke at a climbing wall asked me about this a few weeks back. I was instructing, so I guess he thought I might be knowledgeable on the matter. He was a middle aged guy who had a nasty persistent cough . His family had suggested it might be the chalk dust, and said he should investigate it further, so he was, although he knew the real reason. He couldn't face telling them he was a LT regular smoker!! Tragically his dad, a smoker, had also recently been diagnosed with lung cancer, hence their concern!

 

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Sir Pilade - on 14 Jan 2019
In reply to allarms:

As a student of occupational medicine, i searched some scientific literature about this topic.
I found NO affordable scientific litterature about a demonstrated inflammatory or carcinogenic effect of chalk on lung cells. BUT:
In this study (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18449402) a german group analised levels of PM10 and PM 2.5 (these small particles can reach the lung when inhaled) in some climbing gym and in some normal gym. Levels of PM10 in the moment of highest occupancy in climbing gyms reached 4.000 µg/m3 and PM2.5 reached 500 µg/m3. (in normal sport gyms both PM 10 and PM2.5 never exceeded 100 µg/m3).
The max level of dust generally accepted for indoor workers is 10.000 µg/m3, although it is to consider that this level is related to generic "dust" and not specifically to carbonate magnesium (=chalk), and i repeat that there is no specific litterature about it.
Note that the levels accepted for OUTDOOR air in the cities of PM10 and PM2.5 in the UK is respectively 50 µg/m3 and 25 µg/m3, so i think we can't consider a level of PM10 of 4000 µg/m3 an healty level. For example, one of the most polluted cities in the world, the town of Beijing in his worst pollution days reaches 1000 µg/m3 PM10!
In this study they found that almost all the PM10 in the climbing gyms was composed by carbonate magnesium. They tried to expose it to humidity 100%, finding that it did not dissolve, so they assumed it had "the potential to deposit in the human respiratory tract".

So, waiting for chalk-specific studies or maybe studies conducted on the lung of long-time climbing gym workers, i think it would be probably more healthy to find a way to keep levels of dust in the gym always low. How? Differences between using chalk or chalkballs are not demonstrated, but:

In this study (https://www.isiaq.org/docs/paper/HP0892.pdf) conducted by the University of Colorado in a climbing gym, they dwarfed the peak level of PM10 inside the gym by 70% installing air cleaners and activating the ventilation system. With a good air exchange the mean levels of PM10 can almost reach the outdoor levels, even in max occupancy time!

Sorry for the lenght of the post! :P

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tlouth7 on 15 Jan 2019
In reply to Sir Pilade:

Don't be sorry, this is exactly the sort of highly detailed post we need more of!

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slab_happy on 15 Jan 2019
In reply to John Kettle:

> I find it reassuring that you can buy food-grade Magnesium Carbonate and eat it as a supplement.

Yeah, but there are lots of things which are perfectly safe to ingest but not to inhale -- water, for example. Or cinnamon:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cinnamon_challenge

Being able to eat something means it's not toxic (probably), but that doesn't necessarily mean you want it in your lungs as powder.

On the other hand, I'm fairly sure that when I'm in London, the particulate exposure from the Tube journey to the climbing wall is far, far more damaging to my lungs:

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2019/jan/09/london-underground-air-pollution-report-concerns-northern-line-particulates

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allarms on 15 Jan 2019
In reply to allarms:

Interesting that the works has posted on Instagram about doing a deep clean for the new year.

Perhaps someone read this thread? If so, is cleaning just an annual event?

 

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TheClimbingWallCritic on 15 Jan 2019
In reply to allarms:

You'd think it would be a weekly thing. Was absolutely disgusting in there the other day. It's a shame as the new iron bru and black circuit are very good value.

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Mike505 on 16 Jan 2019
In reply to allarms:

If silicosis is caused by insoluble dust getting into the lungs and causing scarring, could insoluble chalk dust that reaches our lungs cause a similar condition?

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Dave Cundy - on 16 Jan 2019
In reply to allarms:

They might be forced to by safety.  The wall at St Werburghs used to be rammed 10 years ago with no sign of limitation. Until a climber fell off and landed on someone below (because they couldn't be arsed to clip every bolt).  A few night later, lo and behold, you couldn't get in after 7pm because because they had been forced to impose a limit.  That's about the only time I've ever seen a limit imposed.

Sadly, if you go to St. Werburghs now, you practically have the place to yourself.  TCA need to make it more attractive, otherwise it'll soon be gone

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Harald - on 16 Jan 2019
In reply to allarms:

Quick random replies without diving deep into the subject (have done so before though, inquired with government experts in air pollution and industry professionals).

Basics:

- magnesium carbonate is not toxic;

- but chalk dust is a problem, mainly because of visual impact. Dirty gym is not to everyone’s taste. IE less customers/customers less happy;

-  chalk dust can have an effect on those suffering from asthma;

- amount of rubber is negligible in airborn dust. Same with other substances like resin, perfume. Yes, measurements have been taken.

- dust control is effective. Most effective is providing an airflow of clean air from the ‘clean’part towards the ‘dirty’ part of the gym. Electrostatic of filter systems do a good job. Airflow (clean->dirty) is best solution.

 

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Dax H - on 16 Jan 2019
In reply to DenzelLN:

> It is my understanding that any dust created from the grinding, cutting or crushing of rock is detrimental to health, not sure chalk comes under this?

One of my old customers was a dolamite quarry in Doncaster, not only did they quarry it but they also crushed it on site and the air compressors were located below the crusher. The dust was up to a foot thick and as fine as flour. The COSHH assessment they provided us said it was totally harmless to humans, the only risk was asphyxia if you fell in to a deep pile of it. Hopefully the assessment was correct otherwise I'm screwed in years to come. (probably screwed anyway due to the amount of asbestos I have been in contact with) 

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NigelHurst - on 16 Jan 2019
In reply to Dave Cundy:

depends when you go, sunday morning - quiet, weekday evenings - busy. I like it there, more atmospheric than redpoint

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Jim25 - on 18 Jan 2019
In reply to allarms:

At some places I boulder at they only sell liquid chalk which I personally prefer for indoors, obviously doesn't work if rope climbing .

Encourages the use of liquid only and creates less dust problems. 

 

 

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minty1984 on 19 Jan 2019
In reply to allarms:

The climbing gym in tignes in france has a complete ban on powdered chalk. Liquid chalk only. This felt annoying at first but you soon get used to it. Generally the whole gym felt much cleaner. Air quality and the actual holds themselves! In some gyms the top of all the hold look light grey due to the amount of chalky grime!

 

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Presley Whippet on 19 Jan 2019
In reply to minty1984:

I am suspicious of this. I suspect that the particle size in liquid chalk is smaller than that from chalk balls. Whilst the wall will look cleaner and there be less obvious airborne particles, the penetrating depth and therefore health risk posed by these particles will be greater.

Cynically the wall is reducing its cleaning costs and selling it to you as a (false) health benefit.

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Oceanrower - on 19 Jan 2019
In reply to minty1984:

Liquid chalk is not a solution.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It's a suspension...

I'll get me coat, shall I?

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Fakey Rocks - on 27 Jan 2019
In reply to Sir Pilade:

 

> In this study (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18449402) a german group analised levels of PM10 and PM 2.5 (these small particles can reach the lung when inhaled) in some climbing gym and in some normal gym. Levels of PM10 in the moment of highest occupancy in climbing gyms reached 4.000 µg/m3 and PM2.5 reached 500 µg/m3. (in normal sport gyms both PM 10 and PM2.5 never exceeded 100 µg/m3).

> The max level of dust generally accepted for indoor workers is 10.000 µg/m3, although it is to consider that this level is related to generic "dust" and not specifically to carbonate magnesium (=chalk), and i repeat that there is no specific litterature about it.

> Note that the levels accepted for OUTDOOR air in the cities of PM10 and PM2.5 in the UK is respectively 50 µg/m3 and 25 µg/m3, so i think we can't consider a level of PM10 of 4000 µg/m3 an healty level. For example, one of the most polluted cities in the world, the town of Beijing in his worst pollution days reaches 1000 µg/m3 PM10!

You seem to have made a typo there, the levels at Peak occupancy were between 1000 and 4000 micrograms per m³ , not 4.000 micrograms per m³.

A bit more significant, although you have made reference to 4000 micrograms per m³ further on.

So its generally about as dusty as or up to 4 x as dusty as Beijing down the wall when busy!

Post edited at 19:49
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Basil on 27 Jan 2019
In reply to Fakey Rocks:

Very, very. very. very interesting, thank you very,very ,very ,very ,much.

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Fakey Rocks - on 11 Mar 2019
In reply to Basil:

Not at all! U r very, vewy-wewy, verymerry very-very, very. welcome.

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adsheff - on 12 Mar 2019
In reply to allarms:

I climb regularly at Boulders in Cardiff. You can see the dust in the air even in dull light and the whole place is covered in a thick layer of chalky dust. I raised this with the staff and suggested some extractor fans would help. However, despite the positive response they've done nothing. I think if I had asthma I'd have to avoid the place.

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Neil Williams - on 12 Mar 2019
In reply to adsheff:

> I climb regularly at Boulders in Cardiff. You can see the dust in the air even in dull light and the whole place is covered in a thick layer of chalky dust. I raised this with the staff and suggested some extractor fans would help. However, despite the positive response they've done nothing. I think if I had asthma I'd have to avoid the place.


I have mild asthma and I do find it an issue.  I think if it was really bad (e.g. I got proper attacks rather than just slight tightening/wheezing) I'd have to give up indoor climbing.

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