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The pathogenic potential of Great Salt Lake dust

The Great Salt Lake (GSL) is rapidly shrinking, exposing a vast lake bed and emitting dust that affects the air quality for the 1.3 million people in the Salt Lake Valley (SLV) with a disproportionate impact on underserved communities. Dust from the GSL contains heavy metals, dangerous for human health. However, the pathogenic content of GSL dust has not been characterized, an urgent gap in our understanding of the health consequences of the drying lake.

To characterize the potential pathogens in the source of GSL dust, we will sample dust from a transect on the exposed lake bed. We will sieve dust and then re-aerosolize it to focus on the respirable fraction of dust that can penetrate deep into the lungs and that poses the most direct infection risk. To characterize the dust microbiome that may more proximally affect people and may contribute to increasing environmental health disparities in SLV, we will collect airborne dust using filter samplers across city transects. For both dust from the GSL lakebed and urban air, we will characterize the dust microbiome, identifying all known human bacterial and fungal pathogens, with next generation sequencing.
This proposal establishes a new multidisciplinary collaboration between researchers in the School of Pharmacy, School of Medicine, College of Mines and Earth Sciences, and College of Engineering, enabling us to collect preliminary data for an NIH proposal to study the epidemiology of GSL dust. By focusing on a major environmental and health justice challenge, our proposal advances the University of Utah’s strategic goals to develop and transfer new knowledge and to engage communities to improve health and the quality of life.


School of Medicine
Division of Epidemiology
Project Owner

College of Engineering
Chemical Engineering

College of Mines and Earth Sciences
Atmospheric Sciences

College of Pharmacy
Pharmacology and Toxicology

Project Info

Funded Project Amount

Great Salt Lake, dust, climate change, epidemiology, infectious disease, air pollution

Project Status
Funded 2023
Last Updated: 9/1/21