BGU Takes Scientific Approach to Dust Storms


Dust storms are well known in Israel’s arid southern region, but not that much is known about them.

However, researchers at Ben-Gurion University have been making headway in gathering data about the dust storms and in particular their effect on heart and respiratory patients.

Scientists from several BGU departments are collaborating in a two-phase study on the effects of the dust storms, which are caused by the passage of a cold front system, Dr. Itzhak Katra, of the geography and environmental development department, told The Jerusalem Post.

The first phase of the study, already completed, reviewed the dust storms of the last decade. A second phase, just begun, examines outdoor and indoor dust particulate matter in the homes of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) patients, Katra said.

Not surprisingly, it was found that during the storms the presence of the particulate matter tended to be two standard deviations above the standard level in COPD patients at the Soroka Clinical Research Center.

The study also found that many more patients were admitted to hospitals during the winter months — when dust storms occur — than during the summer months, said Dr. Victor Novack, head of the SCRC.

During the prospective phase, the researchers have recruited 86 patients at an average of 70 years old and with extremely poor lung function. The team is examining what occurs among these patients after a dust storm, and has thus far measured particulate matter levels and patient reaction in 19 households.

The researchers do not yet have any advice for the patients in handling the dust storms. But the Be’er Sheva community provides them with “a frontier environmental lab” for study, Novack said.

The storms occur during about 10 percent of the year, and particulate matter reaches extremely high levels on these days, both inside homes and outside.

“For now, I don’t have a very good recommendation for my patients,” Novack said. “I can’t say don’t breathe during these days.”