Recently, we published an article on some recent studies that have emerged that demonstrate a connection between the spread of coronavirus and high pollution levels. (Read our other post on this topic and how fugitive dust pollution particles can spread coronavirus.)
Today’s article will take that a step further, explaining exactly what fugitive dust pollution is, where it comes from, how it correlates to other types of pollution, what kind of tangible risks it poses (beyond spreading coronavirus) and why investing in properly controlling it makes sense for your bottom line.
Note – the following information can help you reduce costs while investing in the environment and health and safety of your people if you work in any of the following industries/applications: municipal/county road management, construction, industrial facility management, agriculture, mining, renewable energy farm management, oil and gas, environmentally-protected site management and military base operations.
Interpreting the U.S. EPA Data on Fugitive Dust Pollution
Every three years, the EPA releases a National Emissions Inventory Report that catalogues all sources of pollution for that year. In their 2014 report, they included a tool that allows you to calculate various data sets, from location and type of pollutant to the source for each pollutant.
These data help to dispel the myth that most particulate matter pollution comes from vehicles and industrial smokestacks. These industries have been successful in getting their emissions levels down over the years. (Overall PM10 levels dropped by approximately 3.3 million tons between 2002 and 2012. Close to 2.5 million tons of that reduction is due to efforts in the “Industrial Processes,” “Non-road” and “On-road” sectors.)
However, more importantly, it points out where there is a lot of room for improvement.
The data extracted from the dashboard is represented in the top post graphic.
Here’s some context. The EPA divides major sources of all air pollutants into four groups: Fire (such as wildfires), Biogenics (soil and vegetation), Mobile (split between on-road and off-road vehicles, such as aircraft, commercial marine vessels, farm equipment, etc.) and Stationary (see main categories in image; includes fugitive dust pollution).
Under each source are a number of sectors. All of the sectors listed under the “Stationary” source appear in the image above.
Particulate matter refers to a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets in the air. While these can be any size, the most concerning (and most referred to by the EPA and other organizations) are those under 10 micrometers in size. These are referred to either as inhalable coarse particles (PM10) or fine particles (PM2.5).
Total particulate matter (both PM10 and PM2.5) makes up 18.5% of all pollutants. It’s the second most prevalent type of pollutant, after carbon monoxide.
With that out of the way, you can start to make sense of the data.
First, you’ll notice (up at the top) that total particulate matter amounts to about 23.5 million tons, across the U.S. Particulate Matter (PM) from Stationary sources accounts for 80% of that, or almost 19 million tons.
Second, fugitive dust pollution makes up 51% of all Stationary sources. This means that fugitive dust causes over 40% of all particulate matter pollution in the U.S. And 91% of this dust is specifically from unpaved roads and construction sites.
This includes municipal/county roads, haul and access roads for mines and industrial sites, unpaved access roads to agricultural and renewable energy farms and nature preserves, as well as unpaved runways and military helicopter pads and tank trails.
(In fact, the dashboard provided by the EPA allows you to search by county to see particulate matter levels. You can check it out for yourself – look up your county, and see how it ranks, then come back and finish reading this article.)
These industries are collectively putting out 9.6 million tons of fugitive dust pollution. But the U.S. isn’t alone in this.
The Canadian Data Only Gets Worse
Canada’s Air Pollutants Emissions Inventory results reflect the same trends. Annual data from 2018 shows that fugitive dust pollution, from unpaved roads and construction sites, makes up a massive 83% of all PM matter in the country. The total amount of dust from unpaved roads and construction sites is almost 24 million tonnes, larger than the entire amount of PM in the U.S.
This issue, of fugitive dust pollution being a significant source of all air pollutants, seems to also affect urban centers around the world. In Delhi, India, fugitive dust pollution made up 55% of all PM10 concentrations (2010 data). In Sao Paulo, Brazil, it’s 25.7% (2014). And it makes up between 14-48% of PM10 in European urban centers (2000-2009).
Why This Data Matters
Both PM10 and PM2.5 particles create or aggravate serious health conditions, especially in vulnerable populations (mainly children, the elderly and people with previous respiratory or cardiovascular health problems, but also anyone who spends a lot of time around smog or fugitive dust pollution).
They have been linked to premature mortality, acute and chronic bronchitis, asthma attacks, respiratory symptoms and restricted activity days. In people with current chronic heart or lung diseases, fugitive dust pollution can worsen the condition, increasing hospitalizations and emergency room visits. (Of course, they can also help carry viral particles, potentially contributing to the spread of pandemics.)
In fact, of all of the most common air pollutants, PM2.5 specifically, creates the most negative health effects, in North America as well as worldwide.
Fugitive dust pollution also has an adverse impact on the environment. When it creates smog, it restricts access of plants to sunlight, thereby reducing the amount of photosynthesis that can occur. It also affects ecosystems through being deposited in soil or on plants (and then being absorbed into the plant) as well as in water (affecting quality, as well as facilitating further spread of the polluting particles).
All of this can lead up to significant costs on your part:
- First, environmental regulations will only continue to tighten as fugitive dust pollution gets worse.
- Second, the health risks to your employees will increase your healthcare expenses. And if your people are working in miserable conditions long enough, it could result in a higher turnover rate. If you work in or near a community, worsening relations caused by a lower quality of life from fugitive dust pollution could even result in lawsuits.
Beyond the direct environmental, health and safety impacts fugitive dust pollution can have on your bottom line, dust also creates a number of other expensive problems for you:
- Increased road maintenance and repair costs.
- Delays to vehicles and equipment due to low visibility, road degradation or extensive maintenance time.
- Reduced productivity of your people, either because of dealing with fugitive dust pollution (e.g., watering or road maintenance) or from working in poor conditions.
- Vehicle and equipment damage.
As significant as the amount of fugitive dust pollution is that comes from unpaved roads and construction sites, it is increasingly important to confront dust properly. Your business, organization or agency needs a program that effectively (and affordably) gets dust under control. One that is customized to your site-specific needs and is built around your budget. Midwest has been a pioneering leader in the dust control field since the inception of the industry. Our rigorous, scientific approach and cutting-edge nanotechnology have allowed us to merge one of the most effective dust control products on the market with the deep application expertise that guarantees results. To learn how Midwest can help you reduce fugitive dust pollution by up to 90%, contact us for a quote today, or complete the form on this page.
 The 2014 report: https://gispub.epa.gov/neireport/2014/; The dashboard to track changes from 2002-2012: https://edap.epa.gov/public/extensions/nei_report_2014/dashboard.html#trend-db