Who Is Affected by Saharan Dust in the Caribbean? A Spatial Analysis and Citizen’s Perspective from Puerto Rico during the Godzilla Dust Event in June 2020

Maité Morales-Medina aDepartment of Environmental Health, Medical Science Campus, University of Puerto Rico, San Juan, Puerto Rico

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Ana P. Ortíz-Martínez bDepartment of Biostatistics and Epidemiology, Medical Science Campus, University of Puerto Rico, San Juan, Puerto Rico

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Cynthia M. Pérez-Cardona bDepartment of Biostatistics and Epidemiology, Medical Science Campus, University of Puerto Rico, San Juan, Puerto Rico

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Digna Rueda-Roa cCollege of Marine Science, University of South Florida, Saint Petersburg, Florida

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Daniel Otis cCollege of Marine Science, University of South Florida, Saint Petersburg, Florida

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Edgar Pérez-Matías aDepartment of Environmental Health, Medical Science Campus, University of Puerto Rico, San Juan, Puerto Rico

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Frank Muller-Karger cCollege of Marine Science, University of South Florida, Saint Petersburg, Florida

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Olga Mayol-Bracero dDepartment of Environmental Science, Rio Piedras Campus, University of Puerto Rico, San Juan, Puerto Rico

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Pablo Méndez-Lázaro aDepartment of Environmental Health, Medical Science Campus, University of Puerto Rico, San Juan, Puerto Rico

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Abstract

An extreme Saharan dust storm (named Godzilla) arrived at the Caribbean region in June 2020, deteriorating the air quality to hazardous levels and unhealthy conditions for sensitive groups of people. Our main objective was to characterize populations at risk for Saharan dust by analyzing distribution and levels of dust events in Puerto Rico, and by conducting an online survey to assess community perceptions on Saharan dust health effects. Three daily satellite aerosols products from 2013 to 2020 were retrieved from the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite over Puerto Rico to better understand the patterns, frequency, and seasonality of aerosols. The atmospheric results indicated that extreme values (>99th) of big size aerosols (e.g., Sahara dust) were observed over Puerto Rico on 22 June 2020. A total of 1504 qualified people participated in the survey during the summer of 2020, and it was analyzed with descriptive statistics, frequency analysis, and chi-square tests. 51% of the survey participants were on the age group of 25–44 years old, and 65% of the participants had at least one preexisting health condition (respiratory diseases 27%; cardiovascular diseases 28%). Nearly 90% of the participants indicated that Saharan dust affected the health status of both the respondents and their family members. Irritation of eyes (22%), nose (24%), and throat (23%), as well as breathing difficulties (10%), were the most common symptoms reported. Understanding patients’ health profiles associated with Saharan dust is essential before developing public health strategies to minimize exacerbation of health conditions in Puerto Rico.

© 2024 American Meteorological Society. This published article is licensed under the terms of the default AMS reuse license. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Pablo Méndez-Lázaro, pablo.mendez1@upr.edu

Abstract

An extreme Saharan dust storm (named Godzilla) arrived at the Caribbean region in June 2020, deteriorating the air quality to hazardous levels and unhealthy conditions for sensitive groups of people. Our main objective was to characterize populations at risk for Saharan dust by analyzing distribution and levels of dust events in Puerto Rico, and by conducting an online survey to assess community perceptions on Saharan dust health effects. Three daily satellite aerosols products from 2013 to 2020 were retrieved from the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite over Puerto Rico to better understand the patterns, frequency, and seasonality of aerosols. The atmospheric results indicated that extreme values (>99th) of big size aerosols (e.g., Sahara dust) were observed over Puerto Rico on 22 June 2020. A total of 1504 qualified people participated in the survey during the summer of 2020, and it was analyzed with descriptive statistics, frequency analysis, and chi-square tests. 51% of the survey participants were on the age group of 25–44 years old, and 65% of the participants had at least one preexisting health condition (respiratory diseases 27%; cardiovascular diseases 28%). Nearly 90% of the participants indicated that Saharan dust affected the health status of both the respondents and their family members. Irritation of eyes (22%), nose (24%), and throat (23%), as well as breathing difficulties (10%), were the most common symptoms reported. Understanding patients’ health profiles associated with Saharan dust is essential before developing public health strategies to minimize exacerbation of health conditions in Puerto Rico.

© 2024 American Meteorological Society. This published article is licensed under the terms of the default AMS reuse license. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Pablo Méndez-Lázaro, pablo.mendez1@upr.edu
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