Dust Exposure in Indoor Climbing Halls

Climber using chalk bag

Climbing chalk is a pretty niche product & there's still a lot of uncertainty about how effective it is & if prolonged chalk use has any negative effects on health and the environment. There actually isn't a whole lot of scientific research on the subject. In this short series of posts, we highlight the existing research.

This 2008 research paper seems to confirm what most indoor climbers have known for a long time. Yes, gyms are pretty dusty places. Yes, chalk particles will get into your lungs. 

Abstract, emphasis ours: The use of hydrated magnesium carbonate hydroxide (magnesia alba) for drying the hands is a strong source for particulate matter in indoor climbing halls. Particle mass concentrations (PM10, PM2.5, and PM1) were measured with an optical particle counter in 9 indoor climbing halls and in 5 sports halls. Mean values for PM10 in indoor climbing halls are generally on the order of 200-500 microg m(-3). For periods of high activity, which last for several hours, PM10 values between 1000 and 4000 microg m(-3) were observed. PM(2.5) is on the order of 30-100 microg m(-3) and reaches values up to 500 microg m(-3), if many users are present. In sports halls, the mass concentrations are usually much lower (PM10 < 100 microg m(-3), PM2.5 < or = 20 microg m(-3)). However, for apparatus gymnastics (a sport in which magnesia alba is also used) similar dust concentrations as for indoor climbing were observed. The size distribution and the total particle number concentration (3.7 nm-10 microm electrical mobility diameter) were determined in one climbing hall by an electrical aerosol spectrometer. The highest number concentrations were between 8000 and 12 000 cm(-3), indicating that the use of magnesia alba is no strong source for ultrafine particles. Scanning electron microscopy and energy-dispersive X-ray microanalysis revealed that virtually all particles are hydrated magnesium carbonate hydroxide. In-situ experiments in an environmental scanning electron microscope showed that the particles do not dissolve at relative humidities up to 100%. Thus, it is concluded that solid particles of magnesia alba are airborne and have the potential to deposit in the human respiratory tract. The particle mass concentrations in indoor climbing halls are much higher than those reported for schools and reach, in many cases, levels which are observed for industrial occupations. The observed dust concentrations are below the current occupational exposure limits in Germany of 3 and 10 mg m(-3) for respirable and inhalable dust. However, the dust concentrations exceed the German guidelines for workplaces without the use of hazardous substances. In addition, minimizing dust concentrations to technologically feasible values is required by the current German legislation. Therefore, a substantial reduction in dust concentration is required.

PubMed Link