Potential environmental impacts of dust suppressants: "Avoiding another Times Beach"

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U.S. Environmental Protection Agency


In the past decade, there has been an increased use of chemical dust suppressants such as water, salts, asphalt emulsion, vegetable oils, molasses, synthetic polymers, mulches, and lignin products. Dust suppressants abate dust by changing the physical properties of the soil surface and are typically used on construction sites, unpaved roads, and mining activities. The use of chemical dust suppressants has increased dramatically due to rapid population growth and increased emphasis on the need to control particulates in the interest of air quality. In the United States, there are over 2,500,000 km of public unpaved roads, of which 25% (625,000 km) are treated with chemical dust suppressants. A critical problem in the arid southwestern U.S. is dust suppression on land disturbed for residential construction.

Recognizing that it is important to achieve and maintain clean air, the concern that prompted this report is that application of dust suppressants to improve air quality could potentially have other adverse environmental impacts. Times Beach, Missouri is a classic example where the resolution of dust emissions from unpaved roads leads to the creation of a Superfund site. In 1972 and 1973 waste oil contaminated dioxin was sprayed on unpaved roads and vacant lots for dust control in Times Beach. After realizing the adverse situation that had occurred, the costs to relocate the residents and clean up the site was over $80 million. Much more stringent regulations are now in place to avoid another Times Beach; however, there is still concern over the use of dust suppressants since most products used as dust suppressants are by-products and their exact composition is unknown.

The purpose of this report is to summarize the current state of knowledge on the potential environmental impacts of chemical dust suppressants. Furthermore, the report summarizes the views of an Expert Panel that was convened on May 30-31, 2002 at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas to probe into the potential environmental issues associated with the use of dust suppressants.


Dust control – Environmental aspects; Pollution – Environmental aspects; Soil pollution; Water – Pollution


Atmospheric Sciences | Environmental Health and Protection | Environmental Policy | Environmental Sciences | Natural Resources and Conservation | Other Environmental Sciences | Other Oceanography and Atmospheric Sciences and Meteorology




Report: EPA/600/R-04/031

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