How Much Does Road Dust Control Cost

How Much Does Road Dust Control Cost?

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

For those looking for dust control solutions for small problem areas, such as unpaved county roads, residential applications or small industrial facilities, it’s common to think of road dust control cost in terms of dollars per gallon of product. 

This way of thinking is based on the perception that dust control is as easy as throwing an off-the-shelf product on the ground once and expecting the problem to be resolved. Unfortunately, dust control is more complicated than that.  

Every dust control product or method has pros and cons, including how it interacts with dust particles on a chemical level. Most off-the-shelf products don’t bind particles together in a way that keeps them grounded long term, meaning you constantly have to reapply. 

Beyond products, there are many other factors that affect dust levels and the effectiveness of any given approach. Things like soil composition, traffic usage, weather patterns, the quality of the road’s subsurface and more all come into play. This means that a given product might work ok on one stretch of road, but not on another. 

(This is why, after close to 50 years of doing this, we at Midwest believe that application experience is 60% of a successful dust control effort. The product is only 40%, which means even the best product can be applied poorly and get poor results.) 

Going back to the cost question, this means the cheapest off-the-shelf product could end up more expensive than another product with a higher upfront cost, but that is more effective and lasts longer on the road surface. If a gallon of product A covers 10 square yards and lasts for two weeks, but one of product B covers 20 square yards and lasts for four weeks, but costs twice as much, you’re still better off with the latter, because you’re essentially getting 4x the benefits. 

This is, of course, an oversimplification, but you get the idea. You’ve got to take into consideration local conditions, how any given product reacts with dust and more to effectively control dust. This does often mean spending more money up front, but in the long term there are road dust control cost savings and improved results. 

After providing a few conditions that tell our chemists and engineers everything they need to know, they make recommendations as to the amount of product to apply and how often to apply it. This program gives you the benefit of Midwest’s application experience, but without the road dust control cost of having us do it for you.

For the rest of this article, we’ll look at the cost of NOT managing dust properly (including haphazardly applying ineffective off-the-shelf products). We’ll break this down into two types of locations: small industrial facilities and gravel township and county roads. 

Industrial facility road dust control cost consideration

This is predominantly a fugitive dust issue. The cost of doing nothing is straightforward. Your employees experience greater air pollution at work, which has serious implications for your healthcare costs. One concern especially in industrial facilities is that often dust particles contain traces of hard metals that are extremely toxic to lungs. This can take the breathing problems dust already causes and dramatically increase the risk for anyone breathing in that air. 

Other road dust control costs include damage to machinery and equipment, requiring extra maintenance and repairs, and the possibility of fees for regulatory violations. 

The cost of using cheap, ineffective dust control products isn’t a great improvement. Many off-the-shelf products are toxic for the environment and because they don’t bind to soil particles, leech out of surfaces easily. This could result in fines for causing environmental harm. 

Their temporary nature also means that constant reapplication will be a normal part of day-to-day business. The more often product must be applied, the more manpower and equipment are needed that could be used elsewhere. Application of water or chemicals interferes with the movement of vehicles, potentially hindering your ability to move product. 

The solution is to choose a product that works to bind soil particles together, trapping them on the ground. Hard metals are prevented from becoming airborne. A product with binding properties won’t leech; if it’s also environmentally friendly, you won’t have environmental concerns or possible fines to deal with.

Moreover, the binding action has a residual affect whereby results are improved over time, especially as traffic serves to only grind the bonds between product and soil more tightly. This means longer gaps between applications now and, over time, a reduction in the amount of product needed. It’s a solution that gets better, and therefore more cost effective, with time. 

Midwest’s Guided Self Apply Dust Control Program can get you these results with our EnviroKleen product. After learning about your specific site conditions, we’ll recommend an application rate and volume then provide the product and our custom sprayer to apply it (which can be hauled on the back of a vehicle as small as an F-150 pickup truck).

Unpaved township and county road dust control cost

When it comes to roads, dust is more of a symptom of a deeper problem. That issue is road stability. 

All the costs of not dealing with dust discussed above apply here. Dust (and some dust control products, like chlorides) can cause damage to vehicles, increasing maintenance costs and decreasing value. In many communities, residents complain of dust getting into their homes, requiring them to keep all windows closed even during the driest, hottest part of the year. It causes respiratory problems, lowers property values, increases the risks of car accidents and poisons the environment. 

Another road dust control cost that is not usually considered is the impact of dusty conditions on the road surface itself. As fines (dust particles) leave the road surface due to wind, water and traffic, the surface literally comes unraveled. Those fines are the glue that holds the larger aggregate in a gravel or unpaved road together. Without it, larger aggregate like gravel comes loose, gets kicked up by traffic and, eventually, may even leave the road surface altogether. 

This causes potholes, rutting and other problems on gravel roads. Regular grading and gravel replacement are required to keep the road in driving condition. In one estimate, without constant attention, gravel roads can deteriorate to become undriveable within one year (depending on local conditions, like weather and traffic patterns). These maintenance costs add up quickly. 

This tension between degrading roads and dusty conditions that plague residents and the limited budgets that road management committees face often leads to debates over whether to pave the road or not. 

In separate but related discussions, communities that are facing the challenge of replacing paved roads that have hit their end-of-life debate whether to repave those roads or downgrade them to unpaved gravel roads (a prospect that raises much consternation on the part of residents used to the convenience of a paved road). 

(For a more comprehensive, technical discussion about issues of paved versus unpaved road costs, and why converting paved to unpaved could achieve the best of both worlds, check out these sources: Unpaved vs Paved RoadsExtending the Unpaved Road LifecycleConverting Paved to Unpaved – Part 1Converting Paved to Unpaved – Part 2.)

These concerns relate to the often-misunderstood road dust control costs associated with both paved and unpaved roads. 

Paved roads are relatively cheap to maintain on a year-to-year basis. But when they hit the end of their useable lifespan, the cost to repave (or in some cases rebuild entirely) can quickly add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars per mile. Often, milestone repair steps that should come before getting to the rebuilding stage are put off indefinitely because of budget issues, leading to worsening problems and the need to rebuild sooner rather than later. 

Communities Reconsider the Need to Pave

Community leaders facing end-of-life paved roads across the country are debating the need to unpave these roads, because they simply can’t afford the huge, one-time outlay of cash needed to rebuild them. 

Meanwhile, gravel roads face higher year-to-year maintenance costs. Things like grading, patching, dust control, fixing problem areas like potholes, etc. But, if these maintenance tasks are kept up, other than periodic re-graveling, there’s not a whole lot of extensive one-off rebuild costs. 

When you budget on a multi-decade time horizon, you find that the overall costs of paved and unpaved roads come out moderately close (gravel is usually marginally cheaper). 

However, there is one thing that makes a profound difference between paved and unpaved roads. 

Using a dust control product that also provides road stabilization benefits (like Midwest’s EnviroKleen) can reduce the lifetime maintenance and repair costs significantly, while giving the road surface a level of strength and durability nearly comparable to a paved surface. It does this by binding fines together, creating a cohesive web across the road surface that gets stronger with more traffic.

Because the binding action creates a stronger surface with time, the effect is residual. Less product is needed over time. There are longer gaps between applications. Less maintenance work, such as grading, is needed. Re-graveling and repairing potholes and rutting is significantly reduced or eliminated. 

It’s a method that leads to lowering road dust control costs and improving results over time. It allows you to treat your roads like an investment portfolio that you manage over time, carefully planning for and prioritizing your budget. 

And all it takes is reaching out to Midwest for more information about how our Guided Self Apply Dust Control Program can help you get the results you’re seeking.

Bob is founder and CEO of Midwest Industrial Supply.