The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) hopes to reduce dust storms along I-10 in Pinal County.
According to the ADEQ website, soil stabilizer has recently been applied to 98 acres of open or disturbed desert in Pinal County.
Soil stabilizer is an environmentally friendly product that binds together loose soil, which reduces the potential for blowing dust and shallow dust storms created when winds blow across the open desert. These dust storms can easily impact highway drivers’ visibility, causing accidents.
“These smaller dust storms are just as dangerous for drivers as the massive walls of dust created from extreme winds originating from powerful monsoonal thunderstorms,” said Daniel Czecholinski, ADEQ Acting Air Quality Division Director. “By targeting our treatment to open desert near the highway, we could potentially reduce the threat for people living and traveling in the area.”
In 2017, 56 acres of land were treated successfully with soil stabilizer in the same area. ADEQ notes that the surface of that soil remains intact, and there has also been noticeable plant growth at the site. To date, 155 acres of private and state-owned property have been treated with soil stabilizer.
In addition to applying soil stabilizer, ADEQ is also funding research into other methods of dust control. A team of researchers from the University of Arizona led by Dr. Joseph Blankinship is trying to determine the effectiveness of a second treatment after soil stabilizer has been applied. The second treatment consists of mulch created from recycled landscape materials. The study will be conducted on 3 acres over the next year.
“Once soil structure in the desert is disturbed and plants disappear, it is difficult to re-establish landscapes resistant to erosion,” Blankinship said. “Helping to glue together and protect the soil in the short term with the application of soil stabilizer and mulch will likely reduce blowing dust but could also encourage long-term plant growth that will ultimately stabilize the soil naturally once again. The goal is to find the best way to do that.”
ADEQ is part of an I-10 Dust Workgroup considering measures to address blowing dust during periods of high wind along the highway between Tucson and Phoenix. The I-10 Dust Workgroup includes representatives from Arizona state and county agencies, plus tribes and even neighboring state agencies.
I-10 Dust Workshop participants include:
- Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ)
- Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS)
- Arizona State Lands Department
- University of Arizona, National Weather Service (NWS)
- Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT)
- Arizona Department of Public Safety (DPS)
- Pinal County Air Quality Department
- Pinal County Sheriff’s Office
- Arizona Department of Agriculture
- Pima County Department of Air Quality
- Gila River Indian Reservation
- New Mexico Department of Transportation
In addition to treating land with soil stabilizer, the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) has installed dust sensors to alert drivers to potential hazards. When dust is whipped up by gusty winds, it can create dangerous driving conditions.
Once the dust sensors detect an episode, overhead electronic message boards immediately alert drivers to the threat ahead. Programmable speed limit signs next to the freeway can change from 75 mph to as low as 35 mph. At the same time, closed-circuit cameras allow staff at the ADOT Traffic Operations center to see real-time conditions on the roadway and in-pavement sensors report the speed and flow of traffic.
If drivers encounter a dust storm, ADOT recommends the following safety tips as part of their “Pull Aside, Stay Alive” campaign:
- check for nearby traffic
- slow down
- exit the roadway completely
- turn off your lights
- stay off your brake
- use your emergency brake
- remain buckled; wait out the storm