48°F
weather icon Partly Cloudy

Pahrump’s dust problem drawing state attention, again

Though officials insisted it was not intended to be a threat, a warning of sorts was issued to Nye County last month when an air quality specialist explained that the county must keep a tight handle on its dust problem, otherwise outside governmental agencies could come in to enforce dust control restrictions and regulations.

Air Quality Specialist Eric Florio, appearing at the Nov. 19 commission meeting on behalf of the University of Nevada Reno, the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection and Nye County, began his presentation by detailing exactly what “dust” is. The term means particulate matter, or PM, of 2.5 microns and 10 microns in diameter, PM 2.5 being finer than PM 10.

“To give you a little bit of a reference, human hair is approximately 50 to 70 microns in diameter so PM 10 particles are five to seven times smaller and PM 2.5 is 20 to 30 times smaller than a human hair,” Florio informed the commission.

The most common sources of dust, Florio said, were burning fuel, diesel combustion from vehicles, crushing or grinding from industry and other industrial processes and dust from unpaved roads, construction sites and other disturbed land surfaces.

For Pahrump, fugitive dust emissions from vacant land were by far the largest source of PM 10 dust, according to Florio’s information, making up more than 50 percent of the fugitive dust problem. Unpaved local and arterial roads were another major source of local PM 10 dust, with Florio stating that these three factors alone comprised more than 91 percent of the area’s dust sources. The problem is further complicated by the valley’s natural conditions, such as high wind events, he stated.

“The reason we are concerned is because breathing high levels of PM 10 or PM 2.5 is harmful to lung tissue and aggravates asthma symptoms. Inhaled particles can pass from the lungs into the bloodstream and impact the cardiovascular system,” Florio said, adding that on top of health complications, dust also negatively affects the environment.

The quantity of these fine particles became an issue for Pahrump in the early 2000s, leading to state and federal authorities’ involvement in local control of the situation. The actions taken then, including limiting vehicle access, watering, re-vegetation, dust control plans and more, helped to bring the valley back into compliance with the National Ambient Air Quality Standard by 2009.

However, Florio said, Pahrump is now creeping back toward noncompliance, with the number of air quality standard exceedances approaching those from 2003 when state and federal officials had stepped in.

“If this trend continues, it is possible that Region 9 EPA from San Francisco, California will get involved,” Florio told the board, adding that once an area is designated as being in “non-attainment” it can take years and a large amount of resources to return to attainment. “They can make it very difficult.”

Nye County Commissioner Leo Blundo, for one, seemed to find the concern with dust somewhat confusing, considering the fact that Pahrump is a naturally dry, dusty place.

“I just listened to your whole presentation, I mean, we live in a desert,” Blundo said, with several audience members chuckling in response. He later added, “I believe we are doing everything we can to mitigate and do dust control but at the same point I have to be reasonable. We live in a desert… There are just things outside of our control.”

Nye County Commissioner Donna Cox agreed, stating, “It’s just life. It’s like, we live in a desert.” Cox added that there are several other things to take into consideration, including a ramping up of development once again, and local water concerns, which are leading residents to limit the vegetation they grow, plants that could help control the dust.

“There’re a lot of problems,” Nye County Commissioner John Koenig concurred. “We talk about new roads and things and the best way to control that is to water the roads. Again, we go back to the point that, we have a water problem. No matter what we do, we have problems with it all. I don’t know where we are going to end up. If people keep coming here and we keep building more houses and there’s more and more and more construction, there is going to be more dust.”

Florio acknowledged the fact that Pahrump is in a desert before explaining, “Unfortunately you guys have had bad problems in the past which caused NDEP to come in.”

Nye County Planning Director Brett Waggoner jumped into the discussion to assure the commission, “I just want to reiterate, the purpose for which we invited Eric here today for the presentation is not, by no means, a threat or anything. It’s just something that we have to put a little bit more focus on, in best practices. Just to try to get an awareness out there again that we are approaching a non-attainment status. The only purpose of this at all is to remind people to watch what we do and try to use best practices to try to control the dust.”

Florio nodded before continuing, “Like I said, I am here somewhat on behalf of NDEP, I am a third party intermediary, so just that fact alone shows that they are somewhat taking notice. Like Brett said, you guys don’t want to be forced to spend the money, so there are maybe some little measures that can be taken… They (NDEP) are getting somewhat concerned.”

Nye County does have dust control regulations for the Pahrump Regional Planning District, detailed in Nye County Code Title 15. The dust ordinance outlines control measures that must be taken.

For a variety of information and resources regarding local dust control efforts visit www.nyecounty.net and click on “Planning” under the “Departments” drop-down menu. Use the “Air Quality” link to access the dust ordinance, dust control handbook, dust complaint forms, applications for required dust control plans and more.

Contact reporter Robin Hebrock at rhebrock@pvtimes.com

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
THE LATEST
Local Salvation Army hit by thieves

As Pahrump’s Salvation Army prepares to serve families in need during the holiday season, approximately $500 worth of new toys set aside for its annual Angel Tree program were recently stolen, along with Christmas decorations and items being stored for the Kiwanis Club and Pahrump’s Sleep In Heavenly Peace organization.

Pahrump community comes together for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a time for appreciation and for hundreds of Pahrump area residents and visitors, there was plenty to be grateful for this year at the Pahrump Holiday Task Force’s annual Community Thanksgiving Dinner.

Pahrump Valley Academy virtual town hall set for Saturday

Throughout much of 2019 and into 2020, a group of local residents hoping to add a new educational option to the valley worked diligently toward establishing Pahrump Valley Academy, which would have been the valley’s very first public charter school, only to have the proposal nixed in early 2020.

Rotary Club encouraging students to read

The Pahrump Rotary Club has performed countless community service projects since its inception in 1987.

Bowling for Our Wounded Warriors – Fundraiser set for Dec. 5

Donning a U.S. armed forces uniform is something that comes with great risk and the men and women who step up to take on the challenge of protecting America through military service often come home with injuries, both the visible and the invisible kind.

Man calls 911 while speaking to deputies, report says

Nye County Sheriff’s Office deputies arrested a man who allegedly called 911 for a complaint about loud music at a residence along South Chippewa Street last week but ended up getting arrested himself.

Development of Pahrump’s Kellogg Park tracking right along

Development of Pahrump’s newest park, Kellogg Park on the southern end of the valley, continues to move along steadily, with a variety of milestones reached in recent months and officials with the town of Pahrump and Nye County now setting their sights on the next steps of the development process.

PLAC to decide on Rough Hat recommendations; meeting Nov. 30 in Pahrump

Throughout its many years, the Pahrump Public Lands Advisory Committee hasn’t seen a whole lot of community involvement, with the group historically hosting its monthly meetings amid almost empty audiences.

Together With Veterans hosting SWOT assessment meeting in Pahrump

The men and women who have served in the United States military have given of themselves, made sacrifices on a daily basis and put the safety of others before themselves in order to protect America but when service comes to an end and they return to civilian life, the transition can be jarring.

Beatty Advisory Board deals with trails, racing, blue light

There will be no informal election to choose appointees to the Beatty Town Advisory Board. Randy Reed and Erika Gerling, whose terms expire at the end of the year, were the only people to submit letters of interest, so the Board voted, at their Nov. 22 meeting, to forward their names to the Board of County Commissioners for reappointment.