Imperial County to crack down on 'fugitive dust' with pollution controls

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Farmers use tractors with laser surveying gear towed behind as they map out a new field on a farm in Imperial Valley, California, 12 August 2009.

Imperial County officials have agreed to develop stricter air quality rules after a long battle over how to control dust in the region. Health advocates cheer the move.

Dust kicks up under recreational ATVs and on unpaved roads. Imperial County also still allows agricultural burning. Environmental activist Jose Luis Olmedo says those are among the reasons why kids there get hospitalized for asthma at a higher rate than surrounding areas.

"The fact that we're separated from larger communities like San Diego and Los Angeles, it really puts us at a disadvantage," Olmedo says. "Because a lot of times we don't know what's going on in other counties and our families are sick. Our families have asthma but a lot of times we don't make those correlations."

Now county officials responsible for improving air quality have told state regulators they're working on a new plan to cut dust pollution from off-road vehicles and agriculture.

Olmedo's environmental group, Comite Civico del Valle, has pressed the state Air Resources Board to enforce pollution rules. The group's lawyer, Gideon Kracov described the county's move as a good sign.

"This has been a real David and Goliath battle," he says. "It's the story of community members and organizers to fight very powerful interests including agriculture interests and water interests out in Imperial and it's been a fight that has gone on for many, many years."

Attorney Kracov said the new plan will set more specific and tougher limits on dust from farming and from vehicles driving on dirt roads. He says that ended years of delay.

"These measures, when adopted, could set precedent on the issue of fugitive dust and public health for all areas of the rural southwest," Kracov says.
Imperial County air regulators say they plan to introduce the new rules at public hearings this year.

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