Health hazards of lunar dust

An Interview with:
G. Kim Prisk, Ph.D., D.Sc.
University of California, San Diego
NSBRI Human Factors and Performance Team

Courtesy of EarthSky Communications

Kim Prisk of the National Space Biomedical Research Institute is studying a space hazard – lunar dust.

Kim Prisk: From what we know about lunar dust, it's fairly reactive and it has properties that are quite similar to fresh fractured quartz here on Earth. And fresh fractured quartz is known to be very toxic.

Even airtight space gear can't protect astronauts.

Kim Prisk: It sticks because of electrostatic attraction to the spacesuits, and basically, they track it into the modules.

The moon's low gravity might cause dust to penetrate deeply into an astronaut's lungs, causing swelling, asthma or bronchitis. Prisk said the task at hand is to determine just how much dust is safe for astronauts to inhale.

Kim Prisk: One of the first things that has to happen is setting an acceptable exposure standard for lunar dust. We know we can't set an exposure standard of zero … And as with all these things, this is a Goldilocks solution. You want it just right, not too high, not too low, just right.

He said this research could benefit Earth – resulting in new ways to deliver medicine directly to the lungs in spray form.