Monday, August 10, 2015

Eastern Washington dust storms trigger report to EPA

By Camille St. Onge, Communications Manager
September 15. 2013. Photo by Heather Wegant,
In dry areas like Eastern Washington, dust is a significant air pollution problem. If you live in Eastern Washington, you have probably experienced the large desert-style dust storms known as haboobs.

From spring through fall, high winds in the Columbia Plateau region can combine with dry weather conditions to form strong winds that sweep up dust from farm fields and produce fierce dust storms. These dust storms can lead to extremely high levels of particle air pollution.

While dust storms are not uncommon in Eastern Washington, they sometimes are so extreme that they cause local air quality measurements to exceed federal air quality standards.  

Three unusual thunderstorms

That's what happened in 2013, when three unusual storms created strong winds and dust in Eastern Washington. The storms overwhelmed agriculture erosion controls and caused air pollution from dust to exceed federal air quality standards. Ecology has developed a report about the storms which we will soon submit to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The report demonstrates that these three strong wind storms were exceptional events and concludes they were:
  • Caused by nature.
  • The cause of the high levels of particle pollution.
  • Powerful enough to overwhelm the USDA-National Resource Conservation Service dust control measures in place throughout the area.

Dust Storms - Haboobs An exceptional event is an unusual or naturally-occurring event that can affect air quality, but cannot be reasonably controlled. If a storm causes air quality monitor readings to go over the federal limit and EPA agrees the reading was beyond our control and meets other required criteria, the high reading may be considered an exceptional event. The high reading then would not count when determining whether an area meets the National Ambient Air Quality Standards.

Ecology will ask the EPA to exclude the high level of particle pollution recorded during these strong wind storms from calculations used to determine whether the region meets the National Air Quality Standards. Excluding the high readings ensures the affected communities do not suffer significant impacts from an event that was beyond their control. Potentially, exceeding the air quality standards could impact transportation planning, business permitting and federal highway funding. 

Attend exceptional dust event webinar

If you’re interested in learning more about Ecology’s report to the EPA, it’s easy to get involved. Ecology is hosting a webinar at 1:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 13 to go over the report being submitted to the EPA.

To learn more about exceptional event dust storms read our FAQ or visit Ecology’s Outdoor Dust web page.

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