Published in the Textile Magazine, January 2008


Textile industry is the second largest industry in the world next to agriculture. In India, the textile industry contributes substantially to the foreign exchange earned by the country. The textile industry is providing employment to numerous people in the country. The emphasis on awareness about the environmental concern such as air, water and noise pollution during the processing from fibre to fabric is essential in the present circumstances. There were 1818 mills (non-SSI) in the country as on January 31, 2007 with a capacity of 35.37 million spindles, 4, 48,000 rotors and 69,000 looms. Information regarding cotton dust exposure impacts on workers and its control strategies is missing among textile employers, management and employees. The main aim of this paper is to provide an overview of this issue such as causes, consequences, health hazards arising due to cotton dust and air quality standards available are discussed to facilitate textile mill employers and management to establish cotton dust control strategies to save their workers from its harmful health impacts.

Cotton dust:

Cotton dust is defined as dust present in the air during the handling or processing of cotton, which may contain a mixture of many substances including ground up plant matter, fiber, bacteria, fungi, soil, pesticides, non cotton plant matter and other contaminants which may have accumulated with the cotton during the growing, harvesting and subsequent processing or storage periods.

Any dust present during the handling and processing of cotton through the weaving or knitting of fabrics, and dust present in other operations or manufacturing processes using raw or waste cotton fibers and cotton fiber byproducts from textile mills are considered cotton dust within this definition.

Classification of Cotton Dust:

Table: 1


Size of the particle (μm)


Above 500



Micro dust


Breathable dust

Below 15

The Micro-dust comprises 50-80% fibre fragments, leaf and husk fragments, 10-25 % sand and earth and 10-25 % water-soluble materials. The high proportion of fibre fragments indicates that a large part of the micro-dust arises in the course of processing. Nearly about 40 % of the micro dust is free between the fibres and flocks, 20-30 % is loosely bound, and the remaining 20-30 % bound to the fibres.

Types of Dust:

1.       Inhalable Dust: It is a term used to describe dust that is hazardous when deposited anywhere in the respiratory tree including the mouth and nose.

Fig.1 Human Respiratory system

2.       Thoracic Dust: It is defined as those materials that are hazardous when deposited anywhere within the lung airways and the gas exchange region.

3.       Respirable Dust: Respirable dust is defined as that fraction of the dust reaching alveolar region of the lungs.