City, county focus turns to pollution from dust

Mesa County and the city of Grand Junction are collaborating with state health officials to monitor and control dust that can whip up blinding storms in the spring and pose an unhealthy nuisance for residents.

County commissioners adopted an agreement Monday with the city and the state’s Air Quality Control Division that officials say should help protect the public and reduce the chances that the Grand Valley violates federal air-quality standards when it comes to dust pollution.

Local and state officials are trying to address elevated air dust levels in the valley that exceed the federal particulate matter standard known as PM10, as well as determine whether increased levels are created here or outside the area.

The federal government allows Mesa County to exceed the PM10 standard three times in a three-year period. If the standard is exceeded a fourth time, the state and local governments have to develop a plan to bring the valley’s air quality back into compliance.

Mike Brygger, county air quality specialist, said the county exceeded the PM10 standard three times in 2005 but not once since.

“We haven’t exceeded that standard in the last couple of years, but there’s always the potential to have a bad year,” he said.

Local officials aren’t just watching for elevated levels of dust. They’re also looking to see where the dust comes from.

That’s important because if air monitors register particulate sizes that violate federal standards, but those particulates came from a dust storm that blew in from outside the valley, local officials can claim the elevated levels were beyond their control. They can then petition the Environmental Protection Agency to remove the incident from a federal database and not have it count as a strike against the county.

For example, Brygger said, two of the PM10 standard violations in 2005 were the result of regional, not local, dust.

The agreement between the state, county and city reinforces dust-control measures already in place.

For the first time, it also brings in another agency to notify the public when high levels of dust are in the air.

Beginning this spring, the National Weather Service will issue blowing dust and public health advisories as necessary, advising elderly and citizens with breathing problems to stay indoors and people in general not to exercise outside.

The agreement also requires the city and county to review the effectiveness of their dust-control measures and implement any necessary modifications every two years.


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