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Exceptional Events: Windblown Dust
In dry areas like Utah, windblown dust maybe a significant air pollution problem. From spring through fall, unusually high winds can combine with dry surface conditions to result in dust storms. These dust storms can lead to extremely high levels of particulate matter in the air. Much of this PM is small enough to be considered harmful to human health.
Windblown dust can be neither completely controlled nor avoided. Under air pollution laws, most windblown dust storms are considered “natural events” which are regulated differently than other sources of air pollution.
Short-term exposures to PM (hours or days) can aggravate lung disease, causing asthma attacks and acute bronchitis, and may also increase susceptibility to respiratory infections. In people with heart disease, short-term exposures have been linked to heart attacks and arrhythmias. Learn more about the health impacts of PM.
The following will help you understand how to minimize your exposure to PM. Anyone exposed to particulate matter can suffer health effects. However, the people most likely to experience health problems are the young, the elderly, and those sensitive individuals with respiratory conditions.
What should you do if there is a dust storm?
- Windblown dust is visible to the human eye. If you can see it in the air chances are it may be harmful.
- Stay indoors as much as you can. This will not completely eliminate your exposure to PM, but it will lessen it.
- If you are driving during a dust storm, be alert for sudden changes in visibility along your route. If possible, avoid driving during windy conditions that generally create windblown dust on roadways.
- You may be abel to avoid exposure to dust, or lessen it, by temporarily detouring to a nearby area where the dust is less intense.
- When possible, try to anticipate upcoming windblown dust conditions and take actions appropriate to your situation and area. If windblown dust affects your health, seek medical advice in advance when a dust storm is expected.