Tucson's dusty air finally clearing up - Tucson News Now

Tucson's dusty air finally clearing up

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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

Even with all the dust in the air the past several weeks, Pima County has not violated any federal air standards.

That's from the Pima County Department of Environmental Quality Senior Program Manager Beth Gorman.

She says the monitors located on the ground are not seeing the dust levels over an extended period of time necessary to alert the federal government.

By Wednesday afternoon, the view of the mountains surrounding Tucson was getting clearer.

However, Pima County has issued seven air quality advisories since the beginning of the year.

That's the highest number in the last four years.

Gorman says she issued four advisories over the same time last year.

There were six advisories in 2012.

There were two in 2011.

Arizona is experiencing a serious drought, and that leaves the ground parched.

Vegetation that can anchor the soil dies off.

We've had days when we could barely see the mountains surrounding Tucson.

We all have our stories on days like that.

"That's part of the reason I moved here so I could see my mountains all around us, but all you see is a haze and you think you're in Los Angles instead of in Tucson," says Tucsonan Annie Bracamonte.

"I haven't seen it dusty like this...I grew up in Lancaster, California, where it's dusty like this all the time. So it's just new," says Tucsonan Patty Marsh.

There's not anything the county can do about dust that blows in from New Mexico or from the desert, for instance, but there are regulations in place to keep others from contributing to the haze.

Dust can come from places you might not realize can make our air thick with the stuff.

"Construction sites, mines, sand and gravel pits, even road construction. Anything like that, but also vacant land that's been disturbed. Dirt roads, agricultural fields. These are all things that are a potential for a source of dust," Gorman says.

With two mines just south of Tucson, near Green Valley, people often wonder if the dust is coming from the tailings that are piled up there.

Gorman says the mines have been doing a good job of keeping the dust down, even with all this wind.

She says on April 26 there was an incident that was reported.

"There was a day when we did get a complaint and the mine actually informed us that there might have been an issue. They took their own readings. But, all in all, we've actually been seeing a really good job of the mines keeping the dust down," Gorman says.

Gorman says the county investigated and found there was a 43 mile-per-hour gust that day.

She says incident lasted a very short period of time, and the mine had taken reasonable precautions to stop dust from blowing off its property so no citations were issued.

As the dust settles or blows out of town, you might wonder when it's safe to go out again, especially for people who have health issues or are sensitive to dust.

"I feel head-achy. Itchy nose. Just--it's horrible," says Tucsonan Irene Masters.

Tiffany Thomas says she has asthma and dusty days are painful.

"They make my chest hurt a little bit and a little harder to breathe, but kind of just take it day by day," Thomas says.

Gorman says people like that should know that even though the air looks clearer, the particles in the air are very small and very light and can just hang there until they settle back to earth or blow out of town.

"The time frame just depends on the weather conditions. If we get a little bit of wind to kind of blow it out, then it might be okay in a few hours. If the wind is still churning things up, it's not going to be a good time to go out and people that are ultra-sensitive should really wait," Gorman says.

To check air quality, click here.

If you think someone is allowing too much dust to fly into the air from a property or business, you may file a complaint.  Call 724-7400 or click here.

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