Maricopa County is preparing to expand its dust control program at a cost of about $1 million to give the Valley a better chance at meeting federal air quality standards in 2006.
The money will go to hiring 12 to 15 additional dust inspectors, plus vehicles or equipment they will need, officials said. The county has eight inspectors now.
A June letter from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to the state Department of Environmental Quality urged the new hires.
The letter’s author, Colleen McKaughan, associate director for EPA’s Region 9 air division, said Thursday that failing to meet the 2006 deadline will result in tough restrictions for homebuilders and other sources of windblown dust, and ultimately to higher costs for consumers and taxpayers.
McKaughan noted that Nevada’s Clark County — with half the population of Maricopa County — employs 18 field officers to enforce dust regulations.
"Dust is very harmful to people’s health," she said. "The information we’re getting is that it’s worse than we thought. It affects respiratory and cardiac health."
McKaughan said she saw many violations during tours of the area with local inspectors.
"Some people in the metro area have an attitude that the rules don’t apply to them," she said. "We saw a home building site, with a water truck in the back. The place was as dusty as all get out, and it was parked, it wasn’t spraying."
Particulate matter pollution, which is mostly fine dust, has been a more difficult problem to resolve than carbon monoxide or ozone pollution and affects all areas of the Valley. Besides the health issues, failure to attain the health standard will result in restrictions for homebuilders and
other sources of windblown dust, which will raise costs for consumers and taxpayers, McKaughan said.
Warren Kosters, program coordinator for the county’s air pollution division, said the proposal to hire the inspectors is being drawn up but the need is clear.
The county now has to review more than 4,000 earthmoving permits and numerous complaints of dust pollution each year. The existing inspectors are backlogged, he said.
Inspectors will have a college degree in a scientific field, and those with minimum experience will start at $16.06 an hour, Kosters said.
The county must be committed to resolving the dust issue, said Jim Bloom, chief of staff for the chairman of the county Board of Supervisors.
"We’re working well with the cities and towns and industries because this is a multi-jurisdictional issue and there is no silver bullet," Bloom said.