Dust consists of particles suspended in the air. While larger dust particles may sting and irritate your eyes, smaller particles of dust are of greater concern to people's health because they can lodge deep into your lungs.
In dust storms, particles of all sizes get picked up and blown away, causing particle pollution. The smallest particles, known as PM10 and PM2.5, are too small to be filtered out by your nose and your body's other natural defenses. This fine dust is inhaled deep into your lungs where it can cause increased problems with:
- Lung irritation
- Heart disease
- Allergic reactions
Breathing too much dust is especially harmful to:
- Infants, children, teens, the elderly, and pregnant women
- People with asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, or other respiratory conditions
- People with heart disease
- Healthy adults working or exercising outdoors
Most dust storms are short. They happen mostly in the summer and fall. A combination of high winds, dry weather, and uncovered fields contribute to dust storms. A few dust storms per year happen in Central and Eastern Washington. Your local news may provide advance warnings when conditions are ready for a dust storm.
Dust storms can’t be prevented, but we and our partners continuously monitor air quality to measure the amount of pollution in the air. Monitoring helps us identify high-risk areas so we can work toward reducing and controlling dust pollution in:
Exceptional events — like wildfires, dust storms, earthquakes, or volcanoes — can affect air quality, but can’t be controlled to meet the national air quality standards
. Under air pollution laws, exceptional events are regulated differently than other sources of air pollution.
For example, if a dust storm raises particle levels above air quality standards, the area may be in "non-attainment." We show EPA that the dust storm was an "exceptional event." This allows the area to be continue being classified as meeting the air quality standards (or "in attainment").