Federal government orders an Arizona county to control its dust - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

Federal government orders an Arizona county to control its dust

PINAL COUNTY, AZ (KOLD) - Some of the nation's most polluted air was found right here in Southwest Arizona.

The federal government has ordered Pinal County to get it's dust under control.  It's a struggle that has been taking place for years, but now time is running out.

In a letter dated January 26th, 2011 to Governor Jan Brewer, EPA officials are notifying the state that air quality standards in Pinal County need to be brought up to federal standards.

EPA officials have warned Pinal County leaders that in order to start reaching compliance, they must submit a plan showing they are making improvements to bring their dust under control, within 18 months.

EPA officials want the county to pin-point the possible sources of air pollution, and a list of plans to help reduce it.

Some residents say dust comes as part of the territory.

"I sort of assumed that's the way it was in deserts," said Tucson resident Dr. John Galgiani.

Others said, Mother Nature had made the problem worse.

"Obviously Mother Nature has a mind of her own and if winds pick up enough, it will pick up enough dust regardless of how well it is controlled," said Eric Massey, the Director of Air Quality Control for the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality.

But EPA said the county  had no choice but to get it under control, or face sanctions and fines that would be hard to ignore.

We're talking millions of dollars, and a significant loss of money designated for road projects unless Pinal County could bring air quality up to federal standards.

State officials said they could actually withhold transportation money meant for roads from Pinal County, if violations were not corrected.

"It's a significant issue. The concentration of air pollutants we've seen there are significant," said Massey.

For the medical community, more than fines it was the cost of human health they worried about.

Dr. John Galgiani with the University of Arizona's College of Medicine was concerned about the spike in the number of Valley Fever cases caused because of the huge dust clouds.

"Our state has the lions share of the disease," said Dr. Galgiani.

To date this year there have bee 2,600 more cases of Valley Fever in Arizona, compared to last year, said Galgiani.

"It could be because this has been a very dry year until recently.  Maybe the dust storms are related to the fact that it's been a dry year," said Galgiani.

Air quality officials said everyone could do their part to help control this dust.

From watering fields and timing the irrigation on your land, to planting trees, shrubs and bushes on your property.

"Do what you can to help form that crust, and prevent the dust from blowing," said Massey.

Due to the high number of Valley Fever cases, a center specializing in the infection was set to open at St. Joseph's hospital in downtown Phoenix by January.

Galgiani said Maricopa County saw 80% of all Valley Fever cases reported in Arizona.

Pinal County officials said they were working hard to control dust in their jurisdiction, but would be unavailable for an interview, until late next week.

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