Monday, September 25, 2017

Dust storm requires report to EPA

Blowing dust in 2015 prompted officials to
close state highways due to poor visibility.
Photo courtesy of NBC KNDU/KNDO
Much of Eastern Washington is prone to blowing dust, which is a significant air pollution problem. Dust can cause health and driving risks when high levels of particles are suspended in the air. We monitor and track dust pollution in Washington to ensure the state meets federal air standards intended to protect peoples’ health.

On Aug. 14, 2015, high winds overwhelmed agricultural erosion controls and caused a severe dust storm resulting in high levels of particle pollution being recorded on our air quality monitor in Kennewick.

We’ve developed a report requesting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency exclude the data collected during this event from calculations used to determine whether the region meets National Air Quality Standards because it was an exceptional event.

An exceptional event is an unusual or naturally-occurring event that can affect air quality, but cannot be reasonably controlled. If high winds cause 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 cause of the high reading may be considered an exceptional event.

Review the report and submit comments

The report demonstrates that the high wind event was exceptional event and concludes that the high winds were:
  • Caused by nature.
  • Caused high levels of particle pollution.
  • Overwhelmed the dust control measures in place throughout the area.

See the report on our Outdoor Dust webpage. Submit comments online or by mail to Caroline (Ying) Sun, Department of Ecology, Air Quality Program, P.O. Box 47600, Olympia, WA 98504.

More dust management

In the months ahead, we’ll be focusing more efforts to reduce dust in areas near Kennewick and Wallula because it is prone to blowing dust. The area is also called out in a federal rule and we’re required to develop a plan for managing dust.

Be on the lookout for our new plan that outlines strategies to reduce sources of dust that affect your health. Through this effort, we will also continue to partner with the agriculture community to encourage farming practices that prevent soil erosion and windblown dust.

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