Sahara sand. Radioactivity, pollutants… Is this cloud crossing France dangerous?

No, the photo has not been retouched or falsified. As in many French areas, the sky took on an orange hue on Tuesday, March 15 and Wednesday, March 16, 2022. (©Vincent Malboeuf – HSM)

One orange sky and sand that nestles everywhere. Like being on Mars.

France experienced a special meteorological episode on Tuesday 15 and Wednesday 16 March 2022. From sand straight from the Sahara flew north to France. An episode that according to forecasters should last until Friday.

The cloud contains Cesium 137

At the beginning of February 2021, another episode of the same type took place in France. On this occasion, the Society for the Control of Radioactivity in the West (Acro) explained to: Lorraine news Which the sand was radioactive† It contained exactly Cesium 137.

Contacted by, next Thursday, March 17, 2022, the association is almost certain: “if the cloud comes from the same place, which is the case, it is certain that it also contains the same type of elements”. She also clarified this herself in an update of a press release from February 2021.

The association is already analyzing some samples collected here and there, but even before the results of the analyses, the association can say: Cesium 137 arrived in France with sand particles† So the cloud is radioactive.

And Cesium 137, as the Larousse dictionary explains, can be very dangerous. “The ingestion of high doses of cesium 137 has devastating effects: bone marrow failure, impaired immune and reproductive function, kidney disease…”

But can we really say that this cloud poses a danger? “Not So Sure”replies the Acro.

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“The levels are so low that it is negligible for humans,” specifies the Acro.

“Pollution comes back to us”

Imagine that Cesium 137 is not found in its natural state. It is produced during the fission of uranium. In the reactors of nuclear power plants, in other words, but also during the detonation of nuclear bombs.
And in the 1960s, nearly 520 nuclear tests were conducted in the Sahara (where the cloud came from) by France, the United States, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, or even China.
“At the time, these trials had devastating effects on the local population, especially in the long run,” recalls Acro.
“So today, even if it has little impact on Westerners, we can say that pollution is coming back to us, like a boomerang,” Acro says.

So any danger?

If radioactivity doesn’t worry specialists so much, another phenomenon sharpens their senses.

“While moving, the sand cloud absorbs a large amount of pollutants »explains, to news.frDenis Charpin, Professor Emeritus at Aix-Marseille, President of the Association for the Prevention of Air Pollution (APPA).

And these pollutants have different effects on people.

So when sand clouds enter Europe, there is a greater number of irritants affecting the eyes, nose, trachea… Finally, effects in pregnant women, such as premature births, have also been observed.

So how do you protect against it?

Although these polluting particles are not from a physical point of view relatively big (they are between 3 and 6 micrometers, i.e. between 0.0003 and 0.0006 cm), they remain invisible to the human eye. However, this does not prevent the consequences, as we explained above.

If so, how can these be limited? “There is already no preventive medicine,” sneered Denis Charpin. Other, more mechanical solutions are preferred.

“Wearing an anti-Covid mask is not stupid, it traps a lot of the particles,” the chairman of Appa suggests.

According to him, the best solution is not to be exposed. Stay at home and avoid sports. “We should also try to reduce exposure to other contaminants as much as possible, so as not to add anything to them. †

Thus, if the phenomenon is beautiful and changes daily, it is not without risk. “Everything that is natural is not necessarily good,” emphasizes the professor.

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