What is airborne dust?

Airborne ‘dust’ or Particulate Matter – PM for short – is made up of tiny solid particles or liquid droplets ranging in size from fine grains of sand to microscopic material a fraction of the thickness of a human hair that. Floating in the air we breathe PM is a mixture that can include soil, smoke, soot, road dust, salts, acids, and metals.

Because they are so small, you generally can’t see the individual particles, but when combined in the air, they can affect visibility through localized dust clouds and the really small particles blur the spread of sunlight and can cause haze across a larger area. This haze can also affect the visibility in our rural and pristine areas – such as parks and forests – interfering with our enjoyment of these areas. The unsightly aspects of dust clouds obscuring views and the soiling of property does not create a favourable impression for visitors to the area, including tourists and individuals or businesses thinking of settling here.

As reported in the Williams Lake Airshed Management Plan, PM is the most significant air pollutant affecting Williams Lake.

Where does airborne dust come from?

Excessive amounts of particles in the air can come from many sources – some natural, but in urban areas most are directly or indirectly related to human activities whether they be industrial, commercial or individual. Examples include:

  • Wind blown dust from unstabilized and/or disturbed vacant lots or open lands, industrial/commercial yards, paved and unpaved roads/parking lots;
  • Dust from earth-moving activities such as mining, grading, construction, demolition, trenching, landfills and agriculture;
  • Driving on unpaved roads or surfaces and off-road vehicle activity;
  • Re-suspension of dust deposited on paved roads from track-out or spillage;
  • Heavy equipment movement, material handling and transport at industrial/commercial yards;
  • Disturbance of storage piles;
  • Landscaping maintenance activities.

Methods to control airborne dust

Here are a few things individuals, business, and other organizations can do to help reduce airborne dust (PM):

  • Stabilize open areas or vacant lots. Consider paving roads and other surfaces where motorized equipment or vehicles travel and/or plant drought tolerant vegetation. Rather than applying water for dust control to these areas, consider vacuum sweeping or use environmentally friendly dust suppressants.
  • Timely and consistent sweeping of paved roads and parking lots minimizes accumulation of PM. This is especially important in Spring to reduce the effects of winter road traction material after snow melt.
  • Try to avoid driving or parking on unpaved roads, shoulders or lots unless it’s absolutely necessary. If you have to drive on unpaved roads and other dirt surfaces, drive slowly.
  • Using marked trails and designated areas when having fun with your dirt bike, ATV or off road vehicle.
  • Avoid riding your dirt bike, ATV or off road vehicle in dry river bottoms, or on exposed areas or vacant lots. This activity creates a tremendous amount of dust and destabilizes the area so that any wind creates even more dust!
  • Avoid using leaf blowers and other dust-producing equipment. Consider sweeping instead.
  • If you own or operate an industrial source of PM, please comply with local rules that apply to your operation. Consider working with local agencies to develop strategies that will further reduce PM emissions (such as the Williams Lake Air Quality Round Table).