Most weekends, giant clouds of dust kick up barely 250 yards away from Kay Karver's Gold Canyon residence. The culprits: dozens of quad drivers descending on the Peralta Trail, treading barely 250 yards from her home.
"We used to be out there in the boonies, but you wouldn't be able to tell by just looking at the dust that rises," Karver said at a recent public meeting on dust pollution control measures in Apache Junction. "People say it's just dust. I say if it were your lungs inhaling it all, you would take it pretty darn seriously."
In fact, things are pretty serious. Enough for the Environmental Protection Agency, the federal pollution monitor, to give the Phoenix planning area, including Phoenix, Mesa, Apache Junction and parts of Pinal County, a failing grade last year in controlling large particulate matter, known as PM-10.
Arizona recently submitted another plan to the EPA to reduce dust levels by at least 5 percent annually, beginning in 2008. The state would have to stay within mandated levels for three years to be in compliance.
Air quality data from 2004 to 2006 showed dust levels exceeding the federal standard.
In 2007, Maricopa County violated federal air quality standards on 11 days. That was better than the 27 days in 2006 and 19 days in 2005.
Maricopa County Supervisor Don Stapley, R-District 2, said it's time to confront the problem "110 percent."
Stapley said everyone from heavy industry to "the individual who does a long commute to work" needs to pitch in. "If we don't, the health of our kids and grandkids will suffer greatly," Stapley said.
Plans include paving and stabilizing unpaved roads, shoulders and alleys; restricting vehicle parking and use on unpaved roads; restricting leaf blowers; and setting limits on fireplace and open burning. If it doesn't work, the state could lose federal highway funding to the tune of $7 billion, Maricopa County Air Quality Department director Robert Kard said.
But action is being taken, Kard said. In Maricopa County, 51 dust inspectors have been added, for a total of 81. Industry training sessions on dust control are being held. The county plans to implement 38 out of the 53 measures outlined in the MAG 5 Percent Plan.
In 2007, the air quality department registered 1,176 cases of violations in 2007, of which 816, or about 70 percent, were dust violations cases. Kard said construction activity accounts for nearly 40 percent of PM-10 violations.
Pinal County Air Quality Control director Don Gabrielson said educating the public is a good idea.
"Everything and everyone from the construction industry to people driving on dirt roads and vacant lots add to the problem," Gabrielson said.
In Apache Junction, the City Council is expected to decide on ordinances to be adopted by early March.
Planned measures include dust-proof surfacing on commercial properties, regulating off-highway vehicles use, and covering haul trucks or any bulk material capable of causing dust to blow off.
Shane Kiesow, Apache Junction's public works manager, said that although the city's dust monitors have not exceeded PM-10 levels, they are taking the measures as part of the state mandate.
"There are shortcomings in terms of implementing and enforcement, but we're doing our best," Kiesow said.
PM-10 are dust particles that generally pass through the throat and nose and enter the lungs. These particles cause breathing difficulties, with the elderly and children especially susceptible to respiratory diseases.
Gabrielson said with a growing population, ongoing construction activity and increasing traffic, attaining compliance in the Sun Belt will need a concerted effort.
"It's a definite struggle, but it's achievable," Gabrielson said.