Windblown Dust header

Windblown Dust

Dust in Benton County

The Tri-Cities are located in the most arid part of Washington State. In fact, the annual rainfall of 6-8 inches is drier than most parts of Arizona. Because of the combination of climate, soil conditions, and human interaction with the land, dust is often an inevitable result. 

Windblown dust is common where soil has been disturbed. Weather conditions, the natural environment, and human activities can cause windblown, construction, or fugitive dust which contributes to air pollution. High winds can raise large amounts of dust from areas of dry, loose, or disturbed soil.

 What are sources of dust in my area?

 There are many operations and activities that can create excessive dust emissions, including:

  • construction, rock crushing, grinding
  • site preparation, land clearing, excavating
  • demolition
  • grading, roadwork, hauling
  • concrete cutting, railroad ballast, masonry work
  • grain processing
  • Tilled, harvested and fallow farm fields
  • baseball fields, off-road recreation,  parking lots

There is dust moving off my property, what should I do about it?

Depending on your situation, one or more Reasonably Available Control Methods (RACM) are recommended to minimize dust emissions:

  • use water or chemical dust suppressants
  • minimize activities during periods of high winds
  • use covered chutes, covered containers, or collection and control equipment when handling, transferring, and/or storing dusty material
  • minimize free fall distances for dusty materials
  • vegetate or mulch dusty areas
  • maintain adequate freeboard and cover loads when transporting dusty materials
  • keep paved surfaces clean
  • restrict access or limit vehicle speeds on unpaved areas to 15 miles per hour
  • limit the amount graded at any one time

Compliance and Enforcement

In order to begin the enforcement process, it is very important that the BCAA receives a complaint for the person being impacted. This complaint will help the BCAA to identify and contact the source owner or operator. Upon receiving your complaint, one of the BCAA Inspectors will contact the owner or operator of the source of dust. In many cases, contact by the BCAA will encourage the source owner or operator to control the dust.

Once the source owner or operator has been informed on the regulations and has chosen not to follow them, the BCAA can increase enforcement efforts. If previous complaints have been received the BCAA may issue a Notice of Correction (NOC) or a Notice of Violation (NOV). The NOC outlines a specific list of requirements that the source must take to avoid a penalty. The NOV is essentially a ticket for violating the fugitive dust regulation. Penalties of up to $10,000 per day can also be assessed.

Do I need a dust control plan?

The BCAA also has guidelines and forms for submitting a dust control plan (PDF DOC). Although we typically do not require dust control plans to be submitted for each project, these guidelines are useful for planning so that your project does not create a dust nuisance. BCAA can assist you with dust control strategies and plans.

I am being impacted by dust, how do I file a complaint?

You may file a complaint by filling out our complaint form here or calling our agency at 509-783-1304 x 1 and leaving a message.

Urban Fugitive Dust Policy

BCAA adopted this policy in -1996 as a result of a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) among EPA, Washington State Department of Ecology and BCAA. This policy was developed after 18 months of stakeholder meetings, drafts and revisions.

The main requirement of the MOA was accounting for PM10 NAAQS exceedances as windblown dust events, not man-made. The Tri Cities urban MOA was parallel to Columbia Plateau PM10 Project which explained the regional nature of windblown PM10.

The policy describes how BCAA interprets and enforces 173-400-010(9)(a) in urban areas of Benton County.

Exceptional Events – Wind and Dust Storms

Benton County is occasionally subject to wind and dust storms. These storms can cause the PM concentrations in the air to become unhealthy, and to exceed the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). Along with Ecology, EPA and WSU, research has been done and agricultural and other practices implemented in the last several years so that the dust storm frequency has decreased since the early 90s.

If any area exceeds pollution concentrations defined by the NAAQS more frequently than is permitted by the rule, the area is put into “non attainment”. The non attainment status has significant planning and possibly economic impacts on that area. Since the policy does require that dust originating from man-made sources be controlled according to a best practice, documenting that essentially “nothing more could have been done” to prevent the exceedance avoids a determination of non attainment.

 Exceptional Event History

During the late 1980s and early 1990s a large number of exceedances of the 24-hour NAAQS from particulate matter ten microns or less (PM10) were recorded in Spokane, Kennewick, and Wallula, Washington. An examination showed a close correlation to high wind events. The exceedances are primarily attributable to activity on agricultural fields, although other sources may contribute.

The Columbia Plateau is subject to frequent high winds, particularly during the spring, summer and fall. The Columbia Plateau has a winter precipitation pattern. Topography plays a role since the area closest to the Cascade Mountains has a very low annual rainfall. Low rainfall along with high temperatures causes the soil moisture to evaporate far faster than incoming rain.

The type of soil also plays a part. The Columbia Plateau soils are silty to fine and sandy and have a very weak soil structure. Once it is broken down by tillage, planting, or traffic, it will not form or re-form clods and is very susceptible to wind erosion. This erosion can be worse when the soil has no surface cover, and has been mechanically disturbed.

The Columbia Plateau PM10 Project

Information about the Columbia Plateau PM10 Project is here. The Columbia Plateau is a 50,000 square mile region in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho containing both one of the driest as well as the most productive rainfed wheat regions in the world. Windblown dust is a concern in the dryer regions of the Columbia Plateau; dust generated from farming and construction sites poses a hazard to motorists, reduces soil productivity, and pollutes air in downwind communities.

Since 1993, a multi-disciplinary team of scientists has worked to provide significant insight and quantification on wind erosion and dust emissions from farm fields and the potential impacts to people living downwind. We have tested and verified a number of potential farm management and cropping system options to control wind erosion. Our field research has shown that some control practices are clearly not agronomically and economically viable, whereas other practices can be put to use to benefit our soil resource and air quality without hardship to the livelihood of farmers. The project continues to identify or develop sustainable practices that will reduce dust emissions from agricultural soils as well as to develop the capabilities to predict blowing dust events. As a result, decisions by farmers and agencies are being made from solid science.

The work of the Columbia Plateau Project has supported and continues to inform efforts to minimize windblown dust in Benton County.

EPA’s Exceptional Event Policy

The policy addresses PM-10 National Ambient Air Quality (NAAQS) violations caused by natural events. In the Columbia Basin these exceedances are caused by high wind.

This policy applies at the time the State determines that a PM-10 NAAQS has been violated due to natural events and addresses the question of what should be done to protect public health.

The guiding principles followed in developing this policy are:

  1. Protection of public health is the highest priority of Federal, State, and local air pollution control agencies.
  2. The public must be informed whenever the air quality in an area is unhealthy
  3. All valid ambient air quality data should be submitted to the EPA Aerometric Information Retrieval System (AIRS) and made available for public access.
  4. State and local agencies must take appropriate reasonable measures to safeguard public health regardless of the source of PM-10 emissions.
  5. Emission controls should be applied to sources that contribute to exceedances of the PM-10 NAAQS when those controls will result in fewer violations of the standards.