Windy conditions can impact air quality

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High winds in Eastern Washington caused blowing dust on Friday, April 27, impacting air quality in Spokane County.

“Strong winds associated with a low pressure system caused blowing dust, especially in the Columbia Basin,” according to Mark Rowe, Monitoring Section Manager at Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency. “Spokane likely received a combination of locally generated dust and dust carried in from the basin.”

The air quality monitor located at Augusta and Fiske recorded a 24-hour average PM10 (dust particles measuring 10 microns in diameter and smaller) reading of 83 micrograms per cubic meter of air for Friday’s dust storm. This is lower than the national health-based, 24-hour average standard of 150 micrograms per cubic meter of air.

Because dust storms can move quickly, 1-hour averages during the storm were much higher. At the peak of the storm, the monitor located at Turnbull measured PM10 at 617 micrograms per cubic meter of air and the monitor at Augusta and Fiske measure PM10 at 472 micrograms per cubic meter of air. There is not a health-based standard for one-hour averages.

When dust storms occur, it’s important to take proper precautions. Dust is made up of tiny particles. When inhaled, these particles can settle deeply into lungs and can irritate or damage sensitive tissues in the respiratory system. People with respiratory illnesses, the elderly, young children, pregnant women, and anyone engaged in strenuous physical activity outdoors are most at risk. Here is a guide to particle pollution and health from EPA.

After a windstorm, fine dust remains suspended in the air or is kicked up by vehicles. In some low-lying areas where the air is stagnant, particles may settle out of the air slowly. Sensitive people who want to prepare for dust storms should pay attention to local weather forecasts and check with their doctors. Drive more slowly to reduce airborne dust and postpone projects at home that stir up dust when conditions are dusty.

You can sign up to receive alerts to air quality changes here.

Here’s how you can protect yourself and your family during a dust storm:

·         Stay indoors as much as possible.

·         Watch for sudden changes in visibility while driving.

·         Avoid driving during windy conditions when windblown dust is likely.

·         Turn on headlights as a safety precaution.