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  • Environmental Quality inspectors keep the air clean for County residents

    Mar 10, 2022 | Read More News
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    It’s an early Wednesday morning and air compliance inspectors Mark Rogers and Alexis Alvarez are on the hunt for sources generating dust from earth moving activities.

    As employees of the County’s Department of Environmental Quality, Alvarez and Rogers work to ensure that harmful contaminants in ambient air are maintained at healthy levels. 

    Their first stop: the City of Tucson’s Downtown Links road project.  

    Rogers stresses that the goal of everyone involved -- the contractors, Granite and Borderlands (in this instance) – as well as the County inspectors, is to provide a return on the investment of Pima County taxpayers in a project they want constructed as quickly and cleanly as possible.

    At the start and end of most any project, PDEQ receives the most complaints. At the beginning, there is the most ground disturbance and potential for dust; and in the final stretch, people’s patience wears thin. “They just want the project to be finished,” said Rogers.
     downtown links
    A water truck sprays a dirt pile created during the Downtown Links project in an effort
    to mitigate dust pollution.

    Before the start of construction activities, persons conducting work are required to obtain a fugitive dust activity permit. Rogers explained that PDEQ did five inspections during the permitting process for Downtown Links.

    In the early stages, “A business owner complained about dust when contractors were trenching and piling dirt for utilities. I spoke to them directly. I explained that water trucks dampen the dirt piles to prevent dust.”

    At the start of the inspection, Rogers read Rafael Frisby, underground superintendent for Granite, the “Notification of Inspection Rights.” Arizona Statutes and Pima County Code give PDEQ the right to inspect. 

    On this breezy morning, Rogers looked around the job site for dust. “The soil is saturated,” he said. “I’m not seeing anything of concern.”

    Alvarez just started working for the County, so she was in training and listening mode.  She previously worked for Freeport-McMoRan at the mine near Sahuarita so she knows about air quality and other environmental code compliance from the private sector side.  

    “I know what needs to be done to keep dust down, especially during high wind events,” Alvarez said.

    Rogers looked for dust generated by heavy equipment digging or moving dirt around. The two also looked for “track out,” dirt that vehicle tires may bring out into streets. Track out happens when the soil is too saturated, and becomes muddy and sticks to tires.  Building sites need to maintain a balance between keeping dust down and tracking out mud.

    Rogers and Alvarez saw track out into 6th Avenue, however, because the street was closed to vehicle traffic, it was not a violation. They cautioned Granite to keep the sidewalk on 6th Avenue open and clear of tripping hazards; the sidewalk was open for pedestrian use. 

    Rogers saw Granite equipment that made him happy. “When I see a water truck, I get warm and fuzzy.” He also noted a scraper in action that was not making any dust. “That just makes my day,” he said. No violations were found during the inspection of the Granite construction site.

    The next stop was Ted Walker Park in Marana. From The Chuck Huckleberry Loop next to the park, Rogers and Alvarez looked across the Cañada del Oro Wash to observe the air quality at the CalPortland Concrete and Vulcan Materials Company plants.  The plants are located on the same property near I-10 and Sunset Road.

    Both CalPortland and Vulcan have air quality permits specific to a “materials handling facility.” These facilities are stationary sources of potential air pollution and dust, though it’s not only dust that gets into the air. Pollutants are potentially emitted from businesses like CalPortland and Vulcan through fossil fuel combustion, chemical processes, and the grinding or pulverizing of metals for cement, etc.  These processes can emit sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon dioxide, and particulate matter.  PDEQ regulates these sources to ensure that they are complying with federal emission standards. 

    The inspectors saw a five-second puff of dust come from Vulcan’s fly ash pile, which is used in the production of asphalt. But that was not a violation. To qualify as a violation according to federal Environmental Protection Agency standards, there must be sustained dust for six minutes at 20% opacity or greater. 

    If that happens, PDEQ typically issues an “opportunity to correct.” The company has 30 days to correct the problem, and explain what steps it will take to do so. PDEQ reviews the response and makes a compliance determination. If the source continues to have repeat violations or if the violation is egregious, PDEQ issues a Notice of Violation.  

    Rogers explained that it all starts with good communication from the County to the contractor or facility: “You need to write a permit that is understandable,” so it’s clear to operators what needs to be done to stay in compliance.