Cheap Dust Control Approaches

The Problem with Cheap Dust Control Approaches

In Dust Control, Guided Self Apply Dust Control by Steve Vitale

When most people think of dust control, they think of water or cheap dust control products like chlorides. It makes sense: most people see dust control as a one-and-done deal — when you see dust, throw something on it, and it goes away. 

Unfortunately, it’s a little more complicated than that. There’s a whole science to dust control; if you start out creating a plan for how to manage the many factors that go into dust control, you will be much more likely to get the results you’re after. If you’re just after cheap dust control, you’ll likely waste money and not see the results you’re hoping. 

Let’s take a look at the problems with old-fashioned, cheap dust control approaches and suggest a better way. 

Old-fashioned approaches

Watering is the most common method of cheap dust control. It seems simple and straightforward enough — you see dust, you spray it, it goes away. But when you look at the science behind how water interacts with dust, the story is a little different. 

Dust is caused by fines (particles of soil) coming loose from the road surface. Water certainly suppresses dust temporarily. The problem is how often it has to be applied, especially during hot, dry months. 

Through our own experience and through stories we’ve heard from people we’ve talked to, the effects of watering can last as little as minutes, depending on traffic volume, season and climate. At a mine where we were conducting tests, we found that watering kept the dust down for a maximum of 25 minutes, requiring constant reapplication. In fact, the mine’s watering trucks had to work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. 

This constant application comes with several costs: the direct expense of the water being used, the cost of using trucks and manpower to apply the water, the indirect expense of holding up operations, etcetera. 

But the greatest cost of using water goes unseen — until it’s too late. All the water required to suppress dust effectively for any length of time during dry seasons also serves to wash fines out of the road surface. As fines work as the “glue” that holds a road surface together, this begins to cause a deterioration of the road surface. Eventually, as more fines leave the road surface through dust and by being washed away, the heavier aggregate becomes loose and gets kicked up by traffic. Potholes, rutting and other problems begin to appear, requiring more maintenance, such as grading. 

Eventually, more aggregate will need to be brought in to replace that which was lost, creating a significant expense and headache. 

Depending on your location and climate, these problems may occur naturally, but using water for cheap dust control can speed up the process, or simply make conditions worse. Besides these direct costs, watering comes with other problems. 

Dust that is continually generated between rounds of watering can continue causing all of the issues that dust does (and that we’ve discussed extensively elsewhere), from causing damage to equipment to creating visibility issues for traffic to contributing to breathing issues for town residents, company employees and any other people who regularly visit the location. Because water is so temporary, it merely serves to mildly reduce these issues, and does not completely get rid of them. 

Additionally, many road surfaces and small industrial sites have a range of toxic particles that gets mixed in with dust. This includes heavy metals, rubber from vehicle tires and more. As water washes fines out of the road surface, these toxic materials get spread to the surrounding area, from residential yards to natural environments, exasperating environmental harm to local vegetation and wildlife. (See more below for the toxic effects of chemical products in the environment.)

Finally, excessive watering on road surfaces contributes to soil erosion in the areas surrounding those surfaces. This has an impact on local vegetation and can even contribute to an increase in invasive species in some areas. 

The next common method used for cheap dust control beside water is chlorides. These include sodium, calcium and magnesium chlorides. These work by attracting moisture in the air to the road surface, thereby keeping fines in place. However, like watering, the use of chlorides is a very temporary solution. Because of the low price point, chlorides give the impression of saving money, but the constant need for reapplication can drain dust control budgets faster than expected. 

Like watering, using chlorides can create indirect costs by affecting the surrounding areas. While the sodium, calcium and magnesium attach to other materials, chlorides themselves become free agents and leak out of the road into nearby vegetation, streams, ground water sources and people’s yards. 

Chlorides are corrosive to metal (as any northerner can attest during winter, when their car becomes caked in road salts), leading to equipment repair costs for individuals and government agencies. 

They are also harmful to vegetation, primarily by accumulating on leaves and blocking photosynthesis (similar to dust particles). Eventually this causes leaf burn and die back. Ultimately this creates a similar cycle of events to dust accumulation on the roadside: a reduction of native plants creates soil erosion and introduces invasive species, while the nutrient and pH balance of the topsoil becomes unbalanced. This then impacts local wildlife. 

Much of what has been said about chlorides apply to other types of off-the-shelf, cheap dust control products. Some of these have been banned from being used as a dust suppressant due to their toxicity levels, including asphalts and motor oils. For most others, there are varying levels of effectiveness, as well as toxicity to the surrounding environment. For example, both lignosulfonates and petroleum-based products are toxic to aquatic life. And the latter contain high levels of heavy metals as well as other known toxic and carcinogenic compounds.

Some research that Midwest conducted about 20 years ago found that nearly 25% of all unpaved roads, or about 400,000 miles of road surface, were being treated with various chemicals. These chemicals can be spread from the intended location in a range of ways: 

  • Over-spraying the sides of the road during application can leak the product into walkways, front yards, surrounding vegetation, etc. 
  • Leaching from the road soil into the surrounding environment can cause chemicals to infiltrate waterways and groundwater. 
  • Heavy rains or flooding can help leach the product from roads. 
  • Children or animals playing on or near the road can track chemicals into homes. 
  • Plants can uptake chemicals, exposing animals that eat that vegetation and the humans that consume either the vegetation or the animals. 
  • Occupational contact by applicators, through the skin or inhalation. 
  • Consumption of contaminated groundwater.

Effective dust control 

You can’t effectively and safely control dust by simply seeking out cheap dust control options. You need to understand the science behind dust control as well as how what you do to your unpaved surface interacts with the surrounding environment. 

As a founder of the dust control industry and the leader in the field of developing comprehensive programs that effectively manage dust and road stabilization, Midwest has decades of experience in finding the right balance. We know how to put together a dust control plan that gets you exactly the results you’re looking for, while likely saving you money over any other cheap dust control product or method you’ve tried in the long run. 

Our program centers around our leading dust control product, EnviroKleen. EnviroKleen is unique in the industry for being a synthetic fluid with a binding agent that ties together fines at the molecular level, essentially gluing your unpaved surface to itself. This creates a remarkably strong, stabilized road surface that prevents dust from occurring in the first place. 

And because of its binding properties, the more your surface is used, the stronger it gets (the opposite effect achieved by cheap dust control products). This creates a residual effect, requiring less product and less effort as time goes on. 

On top of its effectiveness in dust control and road stabilization, EnviroKleen is proven safe for the environment by a range of third-party tests and certifications. If you are responsible for a township or rural road and need to address objections and concerns from residents in your community about your choice of dust control product, this fact will allow you to reassure them. 

Midwest offers its EnviroKleen product through our Guided Self Apply program. This is a program we’ve developed based on years of experience creating custom plans to help companies, organizations, government agencies and more get control of their dust problems. This experience allows us to take your responses to a handful of questions and provide you with custom recommendations based on your specific situation, from the exact product mix to the application rate to how often you’ll need to apply maintenance coats. We then provide you with the recommended volume of EnviroKleen as well as our specialized e-sprayer, designed to fit onto the back of any pickup truck from the size of an F250 and up, offering you complete application flexibility.