As last week’s article about the cancellation of Ravalli County’s Dust Abatement Program stated, I believe that road dust is a serious health hazard, and not just for people living beside dirt roads. Road dust gets stirred into our valley’s air and spread around for all to share. The Ravalli County Best Management Practices for Gravel Roads discloses, “Unpaved roads are the largest source of particulate pollution in the United States, producing almost five times as much particulate matter as the next two largest sources combined.” This document also says, “The Road and Bridge Department will work closely with the Department of Environmental Health to monitor levels of airborne particulate (fugitive dust) that occurs on county roadways and to facilitate the management and mitigation of that dust.” This has not been done.
Some of our County Commissioners make much political hay of the health hazards of wildfire smoke which is minimally controllable. Most of the smoke comes from outside the Commissioners’ jurisdiction and is therefore beyond their control. However, road dust is much easier to control and is within their jurisdiction. As a matter of fact they are legally required to mitigate road dust. State regulation requires, “No person shall cause or otherwise authorize the use of any street, road or parking lot without taking reasonable precautions to control emissions of airborne particulate matter.”
Because Ravalli County is nearing the limits of federal clean air standards and may soon become an air quality “non-attainment” area, the state of Montana has been leaning on our County to help residents avoid the health damage from road dust. The Montana Air & Congestion Initiative (MACI) includes communities / counties considered “at risk” of air quality non-attainment, Ravalli County was able to purchase additional equipment including a quite expensive sweeper truck and water truck, with the State paying approximately 87% of the cost. Participation in MACI is predicated upon the use of that equipment for particulate reduction activity. So, having acquired equipment under MACI and then not using it for the stated purpose of the program would appear to be a problem.
The Commissioners say they canceled the Dust Abatement Program due to Road Department budget shortages. Given the $125,000 wrongful discharge Settlement with former Road Supervisor Ohnstad, the pending lawsuit by another Road Department employee, as well as the extraneous costs to county taxpayers of the Commissioners’ discretionary, ideologically driven, pie-in-the-sky projects, I am not surprised there are budget shortfalls for legally required basic services that would improve our health.
The Commissioners say they intend to reinstate the Dust Abatement Program next year hoping the budget situation improves. Hah! I won’t be holding my breath, as much as I would like to, and do not believe the budget situation will improve with ‘our’ Commission apparently set on shrinking government by bankrupting the County.
If you are one of the 201 resident homes that are getting dusted due to the Program cancellation or even if you just breathe the air here, you can take action by: 1) contact the Montana DEQ Environmental Enforcement Division at 406-444-2544 to file a complaint…, 2) send me, at Box 204, Darby, MT 59829, your name and address so we can organize for the health of county residents.