Dust storms in the Arizona desert have been part of local weather for eons. Long before the first automobile spat out the first particle of pollution, each summer monsoon dust storms have rushed out of the mountains to blind people and animals while knocking down structures and trees.
Federal officials, however, apparently know too little about the geography and meteorology of the Sonoran Desert. They think of our desert dust as air pollution, something human-made and for which we must atone.
So when a big dust storm struck the Valley a couple of weeks ago, we got a black mark in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Big Book of Bad Places to Breathe. As Tuesday’s story by the Tribune’s Ray Stern reported, costly sanctions from the EPA may await us, thanks to extreme levels of dust on Aug. 13 — when a large dust storm blew into town.
If the feds are getting into the business of identifying someone responsible for what is the work of force majure, then we suggest they take it up with, um, a higher authority about how dust storms violate federal regulations.
Still, back here on the desert floor, we have to admit that the feds are partly right. Some of those airborne particulates are of our own actions or failures to act. Examples are:
- Construction crews that don’t dampen stirred-up dust at building sites frequently enough.
- Municipal workers who don’t use vacuum-equipped streetsweepers that collect dust that accumulates on streets instead of merely redistributing it.
- Dirt roads that are now undeniably in crowded urban areas. They should have been paved long ago, but residents along them think it’s quaint and rustic to whip up that dirt into their neighbors’ lungs.
Among the large cadre of lazy local government officials are those hoping that the Valley gets a waiver from the EPA so that they don’t have to spend from their budgets on paving those roads and buying those upgraded streetsweepers. Construction companies certainly don’t like the added time and expense of hiring water trucks to dampen building sites several times each day.
Yet clean air is a serious matter — ask anyone with a respiratory illness. Bad air, from whatever source, is a wall pushing down upon them as they struggle to get a healthy breath. It shouldn’t take ignorant feds from Washington, D.C, ruling on an Arizona they aren’t familiar with for we Arizonans to do the right thing about the clean-air concerns that we do have power over.
And as for fewer dust storms — well, there’s always prayer.