News

1/18/2006 New revisions may turn a blind eye to lake dust
Take a deep breath, but don't hold it.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed, among other pollution monitoring revisions, to revoke current 24-hour air pollution monitoring standards in rural areas of the U.S. such as Inyo County because, as a December 20 EPA press release stated (1), windblown dust and soils and agricultural and mining sources "do not pose much risk to public health."

Dust pollution from the Owens (Dry) Lake in Inyo County, California has frequently--and flagrantly-- violated federal air pollution control standards and has been acknowledged as a health hazard previously by the EPA, which noted in 1999 that "the dust from the lake bed contains carcinogens such as nickel, cadmium, and arsenic, as well as sodium, chlorine, iron, calcium, potassium, sulfur, aluminum and magnesium" (2) and that--aside from the well-known carcinogens in the dry lake dust--"particulate matter air pollution is especially harmful to people with lung disease such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema.... Exposure to air pollution can trigger asthma attacks and cause wheezing, coughing, and respiratory irritation in individuals with sensitive airways." (3)

Although the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power has made some strides in dust control efforts under a State Implementation Plan, which is enforced by the Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District (4) and which was strongly encouraged by the EPA, the dry lake bed is the largest single source of PM-10 pollution in the United States. The lake has been cited as a "spectacular example" of dust storms and desertification from surface water diversion. Dust storms from the lake have been anecdotally linked to surges in hospital emergency room visits as far as Ridgecrest, California, 60 miles south. Dust from the lake has impaired visibility in Sequoia, Kings Canyon, and Death Valley National Parks as well as at China Lake Naval Weapons Center. (5)

Under the new rules, the federal government would simply stop monitoring dust pollution in rural areas such as the Owens Valley, operating on the assumption that dust pollution in rural areas does not significantly endanger human health and that monitoring efforts should focus instead on urban areas.

"Armed with the Bush Administration's innovative clean air policies and the best available science we will continue to improve air quality and public health," said EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson. (6)

Proposed revisions to EPA rules have been posted on the EPA web site at www.epa.gov/air/particles/actions.html (see their comments on "coarse particles") and on the Federal Register online at www.gpoaccess.gov/fr/ (use the search term "ambient air"). Public comment is invited.

--Ceal Klingler

1. See yosemite.epa.gov/opa/admpress.nsf/4d84d5d9a719de8c85257018005467c2/1e5d3c6f081ac7ea852570de0050ae2b!OpenDocument
2. See www.epa.gov/region09/air/owens/pmplan.html
3. See www.epa.gov/region09/air/owens/qa.html
4. See www.gbuapcd.org/
5. See geochange.er.usgs.gov/sw/impacts/geology/owens/
6. See http://yosemite.epa.gov/opa/admpress.nsf/4d84d5d9a719de8c85257018005467c2/1e5d3c6f081ac7ea852570de0050ae2b!OpenDocument




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