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Based on my previous question over here, which starts up and talks about a desert which is full of ore sand instead of normal sand.

What would people need to be able to simply live in it, since there would be that much ore dust all over the place?

The next and probably last question for now will be over here, which will be, how would the people living there be able to harvest, sort and smelt the ore sand.

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For people to live in a desert of various ores that includes heavy metals, respiratory protection would be essential, as would be an oasis protected from dust. Any airborne heavy metal dust getting into the inhabitants lungs, or into their digestive system via contamination of water or food would lead to a short and miserable life.

Airborne dust can be dealt with using respirators, which needn't be too complex - a few layers of finely woven cloth or a container of a bundle of fibres like cotton can trap dust effectively. The dust masks need to seal fairly well, so don't expect your desert dwellers to have beards - people who use respirators on a regular basis for work can gain significant exposure via beard-induced poor sealing around the mouth and nose.

The problem with dust is that it gets on the food and in the water too. Water can be used to wash foodstuffs, which would probably be cooked in closed containers to keep out dust, but keeping water clean is a problem. Many toxic metal ores can dissolve in water, so if there were underground aquifers that were toxin-free, they could be sheltered to keep out dust for use as a primary water supply. Alternatively, if the only water available was contaminated, distillation could be used to remove contaminants. However, this would take energy in the form of fuel (or magic).

The inhabitants would have to know which ores were toxic so that they could avoid eating any plants growing in them, since such plants would not be able to be simply washed clean, and any animals from these areas would likely be toxic too.

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    $\begingroup$ Great insight on no beards being allowed for these people $\endgroup$ – grimmsdottir Feb 24 '15 at 2:08
  • $\begingroup$ You could have moustaches though. They don't interfere with mask seals. $\endgroup$ – Monty Wild Feb 24 '15 at 2:12
  • $\begingroup$ Arsenic in the water is going to be a major problem, it's not a metal itself but it concentrates with metals and it's highly water soluble and toxic to every carbon based lifeform yet observed. $\endgroup$ – Ash Aug 16 '17 at 19:02
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I would see there essentially being two layers to the society. You'd have the wealthy folks living long(er) and comfortable lives while the rest of the population lives quite short lives due to metal poisoning. I'm assuming that the desert has a fairly random and equal distribution of metals throughout, so the residents would have an extremely hard time determining what kind of poisoning was going on. The wealthy would probably have magic or some other method available to them for removing contamination from food, drink, and self.

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