Outdoor dust management

We monitor the air for dust in areas of Washington where dust storms happen. Monitors track air quality to measure whether areas meet national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS), which are set by EPA. Our atmospheric scientists also monitor weather conditions to identify potential dangerous and unhealthy dust storms. By doing this, we can provide advance warning to people in affected areas.

Outdoor dust storms can be very unhealthy. Ecology and farmers have been working to reduce dust from fields.

During a dust storm, massive amounts of soil and dust are suspended in air that can harm your health, impact your breathing, and put your safety at risk. Dust storms are an immediate concern for travelers due to limited visibility .

Dust storms mainly happen in Central and Eastern Washington. They can happen during any season, but mostly occur in the summer and fall. Read our blog for more about dust storms.

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
  • Emphysema
  • Asthma
  • Bronchitis
  • 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:

  • Kennewick
  • Cheney
  • Spokane

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 may be treated 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 can show EPA that the dust storm was an "exceptional event." This allows the area to  continue to be classified as meeting the air quality standards (or "in attainment").

Exceptional events: