Track 13: Ted Schade, GBUAPCD
Situated between the Sierra Nevada and the White mountains, the Owens Valley is prone to extreme and sustained wind events. Shortly after Owens Lake became dry in 1926 severe alkali dust storms regularly debilitated the region as fine particulate matter covering the lakebed’s surface became airborne and transient. Although many desert regions of the western U.S. have an abundance of dry lakes, most are five to ten thousand of years old and have stabilized over time. Wind and other natural processes blew fine particulate off these ancient lakebeds ages ago leaving only the heavier matter behind.
Desiccated less than 100 years old, the Owens lakebed has not had the luxury of geological time to stabilize. Before LADWP’s current dust control effort, a fine, talcum-like dust covered much of the dry playa. The dust, known to contain a caustic mix of arsenic, cadmium, nickel, sulfates, salts, and other contaminants has been shown to cause adverse heath effects if inhaled on a regular basis.  It not uncommon for those directly exposed to the metallic tasting dust to suffer eye irritations, nosebleeds, allergic reactions, and other compromised respiratory-related conditions. “Sensitive populations” including children and the elderly or those with asthma, bronchitis, and heart and lung disease are especially at risk. Poor visibility resulting from a severe dust storm can cause driving hazards, car wrecks, and fatalities. In addition, extreme dust events impact wildlife and the general overall ecology of the region.
The residents throughout Owens Valley, especially those in communities near the lakebed including Lone Pine, Keeler, Cartago, and Olancha are especially affected by these dust events. Up until the dust control mitigation efforts began in 2001, residents of these communities simply put up with the dust storms on a regular basis. Still, dust storms were not simply localized—scientific studies showed that Owens Lake dust could be transported vast distances—as far as San Bernardino to the south or even above Mt. Whitney into the San Joaquin Valley to the west. Dust originating from Owens Lake has in the past caused air pollution violations in Bridgeport, which lies fifty miles to the south and regularly suspended military operations at the China Lake Naval Weapons Center (ninety miles south) resulting in millions of dollars in losses. A single cancelled test flight could cost the Navy up to $50,000 per test. Indeed, the Navy’s research into the Owens Lake problem drove the demand to address and resolve the air pollution it was producing for the entire region.
National air pollution standards were set by 1970 under the federal Clean Air Act—which specifies what air pollutants are regulated by government and the levels of air pollution allowed we are allowed to breath. Consequent act revisions set the allowable air pollution standard for PM-10 (particulate matter ten microns in diameter or less) that has the ability, due to its microscopic size—about one-seventh the one-seventh the diameter of a human hair—to lodge into the lower regions of the respiratory tract and cause possible adverse health affects such as cancer, a variety of lung disorders including asthma, and depressed immunity function.
Air monitoring of Owens Lake and surrounding areas began in the 1980s with the formation of the Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District (GBUAPCD), a California state regional government agency serving the unified counties of Alpine, Mono, and Inyo Counties. GBUAPCD recorded PM-10 levels 100 times over allowable federal standard and it was quickly determined that Owens Lake was the largest single source of PM-10 in the nation. Before current dust control mitigation measures were in place it had been estimated that the lakebed was producing about 80,000 tons of dust per year. GBUAPCD would frequently receive twenty to thirty federal exceedances of the federal standard for PM-10 air pollution allowed per year, all at abnormally high levels.
With the passing of California Health and Safety Code 42316, a series of negotiations with the Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District (GBUAPCD) resulted in late 1990s. The City of Los Angeles and GBUAPCD entered into a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) in July 1998 requiring that dust control mitigation measures designed to meet state and federal air quality standards were in place by the mid-2000s—thus initiating the largest dust control project of its kind ever undertaken in North America.
It is estimated that dust pollution originating from Owens Lake impacts about 40,000 permanent residents between Bishop and Bridgeport. Regional health officials assume that chronic dust exposure is causing health affects for some of the population. Indeed, in the 2012 Community Health Needs Assessment Report by the Southern Inyo Healthcare District in Lone Pine stated that 91.5 percent of cancer deaths in Inyo County resulted from lung cancer—compared to the national average of 52.6 percent. Understandably, the report calls for continued aggressive air quality monitoring to continue within the region.
Large dust events continue to occur throughout the Owens Valley albeit less severe and frequent today. For example, on May 25th, 2012 a stage two health advisory event was advised for the residents of Lone Pine with a stage one for those in Keeler. That afternoon air pollution monitoring devices measured PM10 in the town of Lone Pine at 776 ug/m3. At the Lone Pine tribal area just south of town, measurements nearly doubled to 1362 ug/m3. This suggests that all-to-familiar dust storms will continue to burden the region, indicating the need to supplement and maintain LADWP’s dust control mitigation program at Owens Lake well into the future.
Check out the GBUAPCD dust cam at: www.gbuapcd.org/dustcam.htm
 Sarah Kittle, “Survey of Reported Health Effects of Owens Lake Particulate Matter,” GBUACD website, January 14, 2000.
 Kevin Roderick, “In Keeler, It’s Breathe If You Dare,” Los Angeles Times, April 2, 1989.
 Jeffrery Anderson, “The Eternal Dustbowl,” LA Weekly, March 23, 2006.
 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency website: http://www.epa.gov/airtrends/aqtrnd95/pm10.html. Last accessed 9/22/12.
 Interview with Ted Schade, GBUAPCD Air Pollution Control Officer on 12/20/11.
 MJ Phillips & Associates, Southern Inyo Healthcare District, Lone Pine, CA, “2012 Community Health Needs Assessment Report,” Southern Inyo Healthcare District, Lone Pine, CA, May 2012, p. 6.
 GBUAPCD website Health Advisory warning cited May 25, 2012 at http://www.gbuapcd.org/. Stage 2 air pollution health advisories are issued when hourly particulate pollution levels exceed 800 µg/m 3. During a stage 2 health advisory it is recommended that everyone refrain from strenuous outdoor activities in the impacted area and stay indoors.