What is fugitive dust?

Utahns routinely say that air pollution is the most pressing issue facing the state. In some communities already burdened by poor air quality, windblown dust takes an additional toll on public health. For those living in the many neighborhoods throughout the state near gravel pits, exposure to dust kicked up by a breeze may exacerbate their asthma and increase their risk of respiratory and cardiovascular disease, cancer and premature death.

Although dust blowing off gravel pits – called fugitive dust – poses a serious threat to public health, Utah’s existing regulations are ineffective. Other arid states have adopted practical solutions to control fugitive dust, but Utah has thus far refused to update its approach and protect neighborhoods. We are advocating for reasonable solutions — but we need your help. Because decision makers are reluctant to adopt these solutions, we must respond by documenting the severity of the current problem.

That’s why we’ve created the fugitive dust storytelling project – to gather personal experiences that will stand as evidence of community exposure to air pollution from fugitive dust and build a powerful case for safeguarding public health and the need for reform.

Please help convince our state government to take action by contributing your stories, pictures and videos of your experience with fugitive dust pollution from gravel pits.

Read and Share Stories about Living in the Shadow of the Gravel Pits

Why Storytelling?

Storytelling is a powerful tool for strengthening relationships, transforming culture, influencing policy and public discourse, and building the people power to hold elected leaders accountable to our community’s vision for the future. By using the power of story, we create a collective narrative that can lay the foundation for effective and necessary change.

The Utah Division of Air Quality (DAQ), our state and local lawmakers and community leaders routinely receive complaints about windblown dust blanketing neighborhoods and roads near the gravel pits. These accounts show that Utah law is not working to protect local communities.

Trying to solve Utah’s fugitive dust problem is particularly difficult because Utah does not require meaningful monitoring of how much dust is actually blowing across and settling on the communities surrounding the gravel pits. This makes it hard to convince lawmakers and agencies to do something about the problem.  If there is no record of the problem, it is easier to turn a blind eye.  By recounting your stories, you create a tangible record that is impossible to ignore.

Yes, I want to share my story!

Fugitive Dust Threatens Public Health

Windblown dust blowing off gravel pits contains coarse and fine particle matter pollution that causes serious health effects such as increased hospitalizations, asthma attacks, lung disease, cancer, heart attacks, strokes and premature death. The dust blowing off the gravel pits also picks up toxic materials created by urban and industrial activities, such as heavy metals. Dust from gravel pits is certain to contain substantial amounts of silica, a known carcinogen especially harmful to lung tissue.

Utah Law Does Not Adequately Regulate Fugitive Dust

Under Utah law, mining sites like the gravel pits located in our most populous counties, are required to prevent any dust clouds from leaving their property boundaries that have an “opacity” denser than 10%. This limit only applies when wind speeds are less than 25 mph. Opacity is based on the concept that the more particles that are present, the more light passing through a dust cloud will be blocked. A 10% opacity limit means that any dust cloud blowing off a gravel pit may not reduce the visibility of a background viewed through the cloud by more than 10%.

Utah law does not require the gravel pits to measure the opacity of dust leaving their property or otherwise show they are meeting the 10% opacity limit. Despite the wild variability of fugitive dust emissions – which depends on factors such as temperature, wind speed, soil type, and precipitation – DAQ measures whether or not the gravel pits are meeting the opacity limit about once every year or year and a half. This means that no one – not DAQ, the operator, or the public – knows whether the gravel pits are complying with the opacity limit, and therefore, neither the gravel pit nor DAQ is accountable for meeting or enforcing the law.

Other problems plague the way that Utah regulates fugitive dust:

  • In addition to being unenforced, the 10% opacity limit cannot be enforced at night or other times with the lighting is poor.
  • Utah law allows the gravel pits to apply water to reduce dust, a remedy that is only temporary and often ineffective. In any case, gravel pits that use water to reduce emissions do not apply water at night or other times the facility is not in operation.
  • Gravel pits often have large areas of disturbed ground prone to wind erosion and therefore the creation of dust. When it is hot and breezy, it is almost impossible for an operator to apply enough water frequently enough to its multiple-acre facility to control dust adequately.
  • While Utah law requires gravel pits to maintain records showing they are complying with Utah’s fugitive dust rule, the public is denied access to those records. Also, the records in no way reveal whether the source is meeting the 10% opacity limit.

Solutions to Reduce Fugitive Dust

We continue to advocate for solutions to Utah’s fugitive dust problem, often drawing on rules that have been applied by other arid states and that address the most serious deficiencies of the Utah rules, the lack of effectiveness and enforceability. We propose that Utah:

  • Keep the 10% opacity limit but require gravel pits to record and report their emissions of fugitive dust using available and affordable monitors that measure levels of airborne particles smaller than 10 micrometers (PM10). With these monitors in place, DAQ, operators and the public would know the concentrations of dust blowing off the gravel pits, and DAQ could enforce the opacity limit and operators could be held accountable for meeting the limit.
  • In lieu of mandating the regular monitoring of gravel pit dust emissions, impose a more readily enforceable fugitive dust emission limitation on the gravel pits, such as barring all visible dust emissions, prohibiting any dust from leaving facility boundaries, or limiting visible dust emissions to no more than five minutes within an hour.
  • Direct gravel pits to reduce their acres of disturbed land by stabilizing areas that are inactive for 20 or 30 days with treatments like course gravel or vegetation. Decreasing the number of acres prone to wind erosion will reduce emissions and allow operators to better concentrate their efforts to control dust.
  • Mandate that gravel pits analyze their soils for heavy metals, silica, and other components of concern and report the results so that the public knows what is blowing off these mining sites.

We need your help to convince decision makers and regulators to adopt these measures – measures that have been successfully applied in other states to protect public health. With your stories, experiences and involvement, we can ensure that Utah is doing all it can to safeguard neighborhoods from harmful emissions of fugitive dust.

A Partnership of Western Resource Advocates and Sierra Club – Utah Chapter

sierra club - utah chapter