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The Importance of Street Sweeping for Dust Pollution Abatement

October 2022

by Ranger Kidwell-Ross

Dust Storm

Street sweeping is a leading BMP for dust abatement when conducted regularly in locations where collected small-micron dust can be an issue. This recent example from the Coachella Valley, CA, illustrates how serious the problem can be.

On October 6th a massive 'haboob' wind storm swept into the Coachella Valley from the east with little notice. It left a trail of dust and wind damage behind and fouled the air for more than a day. The damage to human health from events like this – or other wind storms – can continue even after the winds calm down.

When serious windstorms take place during a dry season, it doesn't just make visibility and getting around a miserable process. Airborne dust also creates an air quality health concern impacting everyone who breathes it in.

"Looking at past high PM10 days," said a Coachella Valley Association of Governments consultant Dr. Emily Nelson, "we had more hospital emergency room visits, more hospital admissions, and more mortality. The lungs actually age," said Nelson, a Health and Environment Risk Consultant. "They get more brittle. They don't have that elasticity, so you're not passing the oxygen as easily through the cells into your bloodstream," she added.

PM10 Example PM10 stands for tiny particles 10 micrometers and smaller. As shown in the photo, that's just a fraction of the width of human hair. PM10 particles in the form of ground-up sand and dust get into our lungs when they're airborne. And we can't get them out. When it comes to long-term PM10 exposure, the hazards to your health add up.

To combat PM10, local cities, Riverside County, and the South Coast Air Quality Management District pay approximately a combined $836,000 a year to fund the Regional Street Sweeping Program to sweep major traffic arteries. The program has helped cut dangerous PM10 levels significantly since sweeping started in 1993, nearly 30 years ago.

Other clean air initiatives have also brought improved air quality by changing rules for winter grass planting reducing the need for fall lawn scalping, grading smaller areas of construction land at one time in new developments, covering freshly graded lots with green soil stabilizers to reduce blowsand, and implementing speed limits on unpaved farm roads to reduce dust emissions.

Local experts say the Regional Street Sweeping Program is money well-spent. "Yes, absolutely," said Nelson, "because we're not sweeping up Dixie cups. It's not urban trash we're picking up. It is those big particles that hit the ground and they do get ground up."

A new Coachella Valley Association of Governments (CVAG) study shows some new additional routes are recommended due to the Coachella Valley's population growth and changing travel patterns. There are also calls to expand the sweeping program further, whenever data support that. "Dust does have an impact on your health," said CVAG Supervisor Perez, adding, "It is particulate matter that will impact your lungs." (It creates and/or makes worse) asthma or other respiratory diseases."

If public works readers are located in an area where airborne dust is creating a potential health problem, we encourage them to investigate whether or not an enhanced street sweeping program might be the answer. As may be seen by the graph shown below, enhanced street sweeping is credited with lowering dust exposure significantly since the program was begun in 1993.


The South Coast's Air Quality Management District (AQMD) has also developed a 'one-stop app' that provides real-time air quality alerts, as well as alternative fuel locations a local weather forecast and more. To see what this looks like, click on the image below to visit the AQMD website location where you may download the app.

Link To Southcoast App

NewsChannel3 Thanks to the Coachella Valley's News Channel 3 for the initial information contained in this article.

If you have information or comments to add to this article, please let us know. If appropriate, we'll append the info to the article.

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