Dust, where it’s coming from, and what it’s doing to our health

Dust is common in the Salt Lake Valley. What is not common, however, is the drastically increased levels from the ongoing drought- and the heavy metals, arsenic and other pollutants being stirred up from the shrinking Great Salt Lake

A KUER article describes how air quality monitoring stations can be misleading during dust storms, as some particles are too large to be picked up by the sensors, as well as the difficulty in tracking changes across individual neighborhoods. We know that there is no safe level of air pollution. Even at a minimal level, it is important to take precautionary measures, such as wearing a mask and using air purifiers, to protect your health.

Dust is not only a short term nuisance, giving us a temporary cough and itchy eyes, but can cause long term health issues when built up in our lungs. 

Close to home, the Great Salt Lake is on track to hit another record low. Shrinking levels expose lake bed sediment that contains “a century of human activity,” according to a KUER article

KUER interviewed Molly Blakowski, a graduate student at USU’s Watershed Sciences Department, who listed mining, smelting, and agricultural runoff as sources of heavy metals and man-made organic chemicals in the lake bed. She also discusses how dust worsens already hazardous air quality. 

When asked what residents could expect as levels continue to lower, Blakowski said “Dust storms in Utah, maybe like those you saw last week, are not unusual during tax season. Increased dust emissions from Great Salt Lake could lead to worse air quality year-round because dust storms are most common when we, for the most part, have a respite from the other flavors of bad air quality that we suffer from here.”

Read the KUER article on recent dust over the Salt Lake Valley.

Read or listen to the KUER interview with Molly Blakowski.