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All we are is dust in the wind

As the wind blows across the plains of eastern El Paso County, so does the dust, which is often a result of increased construction in the area.El Paso County Commissioner Douglas Bruce said he is working with developers and other agencies to find solutions to too much dust. He said the bulk of the problem is in his district, which includes about 60 percent of the 2,130 square miles in the county.Richard Demark, a long-time Falcon resident, lives near Falcon Highway and Highway 24. He said he blames excessive construction dust in the area over the past few years for his wife’s death in March.Demark said dust from construction sites near his home complicated his wife’s existing health issues. Since 1970, he said she suffered from chronic obstruction pulmonary disease, but about three years ago she started having complications, which prompted frequent visits to the hospital emergency room. Demark said when the wind blew dust, his wife had to wear a mask.”It shortened our time together by 10 years at least,” he said. “It took three years to get people’s attention about this, but it’s too late; she’s already gone.”Bruce said he would like to work with developers and area agencies to develop guidelines regarding the blowing dust.”They (developers) have been in violation, but everyone just closed their eyes to it,” Demark said. “They scrape 500 acres, but only build on 100 acres.”Bruce agrees the area exposed during construction needs to be minimized. “Developers have a moral obligation, but soon they will also have a legal obligation,” Bruce said.”I disagree with developers that people should have to put up with a certain amount of dust. There should be consequences when dust blows off your property into someone else’s lungs.”Mike McCarthy, El Paso County Health Department air and water quality program director, said the health department does get complaints about blowing dust.”We are looking to agencies for assistance, such as the state health department, local developers, area residents and El Paso County development services to develop better control methods,” McCarthy said, “This is the hardest we’ve looked at dust control issues with different agencies.”We don’t know the scale of involvement we’re going to get.”Rich Muzzy, Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments environmental program manager, said the PPACG is an air quality planning agency covering the Colorado Springs urbanized area. He said the agency reviews air quality plans. If an area is out of compliance with air quality guidelines, then a plan is written by the PPACG to get back into compliance.Muzzy said research has shown that dust is a public health issue, sometimes causing increased breathing problems, lung tissue damage and aggravation of existing problems, such as asthma.Colorado adopted federal air quality standards, he said.And monitors placed throughout the county measure air quality, Muzzy said. Currently, he said two PM10 monitors, which act as filters to trap materials in the air, are active in the county. PM10 particles are the size of 10 microns or less, Muzzy said. These particles may consist of dust from unpaved roads, street sanding and construction or wood burning.Muzzy said El Paso County has never violated the federal standards. “That is what would trigger us to go ahead and develop a plan to get back into compliance,” he said.But preventive measures are vital to maintaining those standards. Larry Syslo, inspection supervisor for the engineering division for El Paso County Development Services, said examples of erosion control measures include utilizing water trucks, installing silt fencing around the perimeter of a construction area, seeding and straw crimping.”There is an effort to minimize exposure on projects,” he said.Syslo said when winds reach 40 mph, dust can be a problem. “By and large, most projects think they have a handle on things until an extenuating circumstance comes along and shows them differently,” he said.McCarthy said developers must submit a construction permit, which addresses roll-off, construction vehicle speed limits, the amount of mud allowed from a construction site onto a paved road, the placement of silt fences, watering requirements to minimize the blowing of topsoil and dirt placement.Although the health department hasn’t had to revoke a permit in a long time, developers understand that the health department has the authority to take away a permit, he said.When a construction application is submitted to the health department, developers provide control measures, said Christina Ramirez, El Paso County Health Department air quality specialist. “When we get complaints, we know the control measures are not working,” she said. “Then, we talk to the developer about the problem, which usually resolves the problem.”She said if the health department continues to receive complaints with the added measures, the developers are given a notice of violation, revoking their permit. “It’s costly for them if they have to stop construction,” Ramirez said.The health department bears the most responsibility in addressing the dust issue, McCarthy said.”It’s our responsibility, so the public should call the health department,” he said. “Any additional help with documentation – times, dates, pictures – is very helpful.”

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