Wasatch Environmental Update for July15, 2018

By John Worlock

“Airborne Dust”

The bible teaches us that we come from dust and soon enough return to dust.

That thought is perhaps a comfort in a ceremony for the burial of the dead, but we, the living, have some alternative thoughts about dust, and especially airborne dust.  Here in the arid west, a hot dry wind can pick up particulate matter from the ground and carry it into our neighborhoods, where we inhale it with each breath.  And that’s not good!

To learn something about dust we turn to a recent article in Catalyst Magazine, called Dust, and written by Ashley Miller, the program and policy director for Breathe Utah.  She came here to ski, but stayed, wanting to do something about the problems that lead to unhealthy air in our community.

Ashley MIller writes about the work of Maura Hahnenberger, assistant professor of  Geoscience at Salt Lake Community College, who studies dust in the eastern Great Basin, or western Utah, our home.  She writes of dust events, with three negative consequences:  air quality, transportation accidents and accelerated snowmelt.  As we know, dust in the air can have serious health effects, but it can also decrease visibility and cause automotive accidents.  Thirdly, dust on the winter snowpack accelerates spring melting which can lead to depleted reservoirs in the late summer and fall.

Dust originates largely from human-disturbed areas and dry lake beds.  Much of our dust on the Wasatch Front comes from the Sevier Dry Lake in Millard County, desiccated more or less permanently by upstream diversions for farming.  Local industries such as Kennecott, Geneva Rock and other gravel pit operations contribute significantly as well.

But Hahnenberger is also concerned about the Great Salt Lake as a source of dust, because its lake bed contains a large variety of hazardous substances.  For many decades, the Jordan River has brought its wastes to the lake, such as the heavy metal mercury, and other toxic substances.

The threat that these poisons will be carried aloft by the winds is heightened by the possibility that the lake’s principal source, the Bear River, might soon be diverted for consumptive uses by our growing population, leaving the Great Salt Lake high and dry.

Let’s help the state’s water authorities find a way to avoid this catastrophe!


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