How to Measure Gravel Road Dust - Midwest Industrial

How to Measure the Results of a Gravel Road Dust Control Program

In Dust Control, Fines Preservation®, Fines Preservation® Program, Haul Road Dust Control® by Bob Vitale

Did you know there is a scientific process used to develop and apply a successful dust control program? Though we specifically explain how to measure gravel road dust in this article, this information is also directly applicable to industrial and steel facilities, mine haul and access roads, laydown yards, unpaved township roads and any other gravel surface that sees regular traffic. 

Many people have the misconception that gravel road dust control is a “one size fits all” process. 

The reality is, just like any other industrial process, dust control ought to be planned out to maximize cost-effectiveness and impact. If you’re going to pay for something, at least make sure it works for you. 

(And it doesn’t hurt that a well-planned dust control program can often save you money over a haphazard approach at dumping product on the road surface and hoping it works — mainly because traditional dust control approaches come with many hidden costs.)

But effective planning, as well as ensuring that what you’re paying for will work for you, requires a scientific approach to collecting and tracking data. 

That’s why, at Midwest, we constantly track and measure gravel road dust. The data we collect before, during and after every gravel road dust control program we implement plays a critical role in our ability to project the outcomes you’ll get as well as what those outcomes will cost you every month. 

Measure Gravel Road Dust to Understand Site Differences

The first principle to understand is that every site is different. There may even be differences between two stretches of roadway within a single site. Each stretch of roadway experiences different traffic volumes and speeds. Weather patterns and soil types may differ between sites. There are differences in maintenance and repairs done to various road surfaces. 

All of these factors mean that one dust control product may work well in one spot and terribly in another. 

An effective dust control program, one that goes beyond a product to incorporate a comprehensive understanding of all factors affecting a given road surface, takes all of these things into account. A custom approach to each site can be developed that treats each road section in such a way as to achieve the desired outcomes. 

Of course, customizing a program to this extent requires knowing how to measure gravel road dust. And that’s where Midwest’s chemists, engineers and technicians come into play. 

Factors to Track

When you contact Midwest about developing a custom gravel road dust control program, the first thing we’ll do is to assess your site. 

Our experts will gather critical information about your site such as traffic flow, traffic loading, spillage, track-on and contamination sources. Soil samples will be collected and sent to our lab to be analyzed. Gravel road dust will be measured at the site. We’ll also decide with you what results you require and the procedures you are currently using. The more detailed information we have, the easier it is for us to work with you to develop the ideal program.

Our team looks at three primary metrics to develop an effective program: 

  1. Target control efficiency: this determines how much product will be used based on that product’s chemical makeup, the conditions of the road to which it is being applied and the desired outcome.
  2. Duration of time: this is a realistic expectation of how long a product’s effects should be expected to last. 
  3. Cost per square foot: using this metric to price your program is far more effective than a per-gallon number, because it reflects the differences from one part of your site to another. 

How We Measure Gravel Road Dust

Midwest technicians use a combination of lab testing (for soil quality) and on-site evaluation to collect the required measurements. Our laboratory testing for soil samples is broken down into three categories of tests: 

Classification testing. This testing is used to classify the type of material the sample is comprised of (such as gravel, sand, silt and clay, etc.) and to predict its engineering properties. This category of testing uses the following measurements: 

  • Moisture Content (MC) Determination Testing 
  • Particle Size Distribution (PSD) Testing 
  • Atterberg Limits Testing 
  • Hydrometer Testing 

Stabilization testing. This is used to determine and compare the strength of material. Using this method we can evaluate increases in strength achieved with different products and mix designs and confirm that a mix design will achieve the required specified strength. This category includes: 

  • Proctor Testing
  • California Bearing Ratio (CBR) Testing 
  • Unconfined Compressive Strength (UCS) Testing
  • Moisture Absorption Testing 

Dust control testing. This is used to evaluate current dust levels and quantify reductions of dust. It can also be used to evaluate any potential application issues as well. Dust control testing includes: 

  • Silt Load Testing
  • Dust Column Drop Tube
  • Topical Application Testing
  • Wind Tunnel Testing 

Our on-site evaluation includes several more types of tests and observations. These are conducted before application, for the sake of comparison, and during and after application, to evaluate how well the program is working and if tweaks need to be made to get the desired results. 

Visual Emissions Observations (VEO). These are conducted to provide instantaneous opacity readings of fugitive dust plumes generated by traffic. All readings are performed by certified observers and follow the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Method 9 procedure. 

Silt Load Testing. An EPA method used to predict and quantify dust emissions, this method evaluates the resuspension of loose material on the road surface due to traffic. This data, along with traffic pattern analysis information, allows Midwest to accurately predict potential dust emissions generated from roads and unpaved areas. 

Visual Surface Condition Assessments. These assessments are conducted by trained Midwest personnel to identify and document surface deterioration, dust levels and overall performance of treated areas throughout the dust control program. This includes everything from walking the area with a checklist to collecting video and photographic evidence of general surface conditions, where possible. Personnel evaluate the quality of gravel on the surface as well as the severity and location of isolated issues such as potholes, rutting, base/subgrade exposure, aggregate segregation/float, rough and/or damaged areas, evidence of product leaching and areas of standing water. 

Stationary Dust Monitoring. Air monitors are placed in areas adjacent to travel lanes to determine dust concentrations of fugitive dust emissions. Dust monitors use advanced forward light scattering principle to make accurate and repeatable measurements of particulate/dust concentrations. These monitors run for extended periods of time to determine the maximum, minimum and average dust concentrations at a location. 

Stationary Motion Cameras. Similar to the air monitors, motion cameras are placed by the side of the road to collect data over time. They provide photographic evidence of dust plumes generated by traffic. This allows observations over multiple days at multiple sites without requiring constant human presence. 

Qualitative Evaluations of Dust Emissions. These measurements are typically performed at mining facilities to assess dust emissions generated from haul truck traffic. They are based on duration, height and length of the dust plume.

All of these tests and observations allow us to accurately measure gravel road dust, creating a picture of volume and makeup of that dust. This information helps shape the effective dust control program we create for your site. It also allows us to keep track of how well the program is working, proving the positive return on investment you can expect from a custom, comprehensive dust control program.

Putting It in Context: Designing an Effective Dust Control Program 

We’ve gotten a little technical in this article to showcase how a more scientific approach to dust control can create the context for improved dust control results. To bring it all together, here’s how these measurements fit into Midwest’s Dust Control Down to a Science (DCDS) process:

Before the dust control program: 

  1. Initial site assessment and walkthrough to diagnose customer’s current dust levels and site conditions. 
  2. Determine areas to be treated and define the square footage for each area. 
  3. Select the best product and program (i.e., customer applied or delivery and applied) for each site. 
  4. Conduct baseline performance testing (the tests described above). 

During the dust control program: 

  1. Record location, date and gallons applied for each application. 
  2. Conduct routine performance monitoring (same tests described above). 
  3. Coordinate maintenance applications with Midwest and customer based on performance. 

After the dust control program: 

  1. Compile and analyze all performance data, application information and field observations. 
  2. Write annual performance report. 
  3. Present report and findings to customer. 

Midwest’s scientific approach to measuring gravel road dust allows us to design the most effective dust control program possible for your site. You’ll know up front what results, efforts and costs to expect. Your dust control challenge will become more of a managed service investment than something you throw money at in the hopes it will go away (like most ordinary dust control methods involve).

And to help you decide if Midwest’s program is right for you, we offer a trial. Let us test our approach on a small section at your site. After seeing the results, if you’d like to continue with the program, the cost of the test will be rolled into the overall program, making this as risk-free for you as possible. 

Bob is founder and CEO of Midwest Industrial Supply.