Owens dust cloud occludes IWV skies, stirs up trouble

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Owens dust cloud occludes IWV skies, stirs up troublePictured: The massive dust cloud looming over the Indian Wells Valley over the weekend. — Photo by Raymond Kelso

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Health problems, and old controversies, flared up over the weekend when a giant cloud of particulate matter — apparently originating from Owens Valley’s dry lake — migrated into the Indian Wells Valley.

“Owens Dry Lake is the largest single source of particulate (PM10) pollution in the United States,” according to a paper published in 2000 by Sarah Kittle of the Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District, following a survey of the health effects relating to particulate matter.

“Numerous scientific studies have been published documenting the multiple adverse health effects caused by particulate air pollution.” Symptoms include sinusitis, cough, head cold, hay fever, burning eyes, shortness of breath, chest pain and more.

“A link between increased particulate matter concentrations and a decrease in lung function has been established. Associations between particulate matter and asthma cases in children, as well as aggravation of the disease in adults and children, have been documented.”

The Owens Lake controversy stretches back to 1913, when the once-significant body of water was diverted by Los Angeles Department of Water and Power to serve metropolitan residents.

Beginning in 2001, LADWP began implementing the Owens Lake Dust Mitigation Plan to meet its legal obligation to reduce the hazardous spread of particulate matter throughout the region. But as recently as 2013 — when the mitigation project neared completion — those measures had not dethroned the dry lake as the single greatest contributor of PM10. And with last weekend’s flare-up, residents took to social media to question the success of mitigation.

Ridgecrest Regional Hospital Infection Preventionist Leslie O’Neill said that although particulate matter in general can be dangerous, residents in the region also need to avoid valley fever. “It is a concern here, and we do see a fair amount of cases both in humans and in animals here in the IWV,” she said.

She offered the following guidelines to residents to help reduce the risk of contracting or complicating illnesses:

• Avoid being outdoors during windy conditions; keep windows and doors closed.

• When driving in your car in windy/dusty conditions, keep windows closed and use recirculating air conditioning when possible.

• Whenever possible use filtered and conditioned air in living and work spaces (HEPA air filters purifiers for the homes, such as those made by Honeywell, etc.).

• Avoid activities in which large amount of dust are generated, or wear a mask — preferably an “N-95” — when raking dirt, using a leaf blower, etc.

• Minimize exposed soil by using hard groundcover or planting groundcover vegetation and keep disturbed soil wet especially when working directly with the soil.

Story First Published: 2018-02-16