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Spring winds kick up dust, exacerbate allergies across Southwest Colorado

San Juan Basin Public Health reports hazardous air quality through Tuesday morning
A dust storm clouded skies and reduced air quality Monday night and Tuesday morning across much of Southwest Colorado. This photo was taken Tuesday morning on a ranch south of Durango. (Courtesy of Dan Bender)

Spring winds kicked up vast amounts of dust that caused hazardous air quality and exacerbated symptoms for thousands of allergy sufferers Tuesday across Southwest Colorado.

San Juan Basin Public Health recorded high levels of particle pollution from 7 p.m. Monday through 9 a.m. Tuesday, said Megan Graham, spokeswoman with the health department.

“There were several air-quality monitors across the Southwest that detected a spike in PM 10, and that is particulate matter that is smaller than 10 microns, and that lasted several hours last night (Monday night),” she said.

Particulates are measured in microns, which equal one-millionth of a meter.

In general, particulates around 10 microns tend to be made up of dust that gets kicked up in high winds and dust storms, she said. While that particulate matter can cause some health issues for people who suffer aggravating lung disease, asthma attacks and bronchitis, in general it is particulate matter smaller than 2.5 microns that poses a greater risk to health, she said.

Graham said SJBPH’s air-quality instruments that pick up particulars smaller than 2.5 microns were not activated by Monday night’s dust storm, which is consistent with a weather event that carries dust and other large particle pollution.

“It’s that time of year, I think. There are high winds and dust storms,” she said. “Particulates with a larger diameter are often less of a health risk than those that are 2.5 microns or smaller.”

Graham said healthy adults and children have not been shown to suffer effects from short-term exposures, but particulates can aggravate existing conditions such as lung disease and asthma.

The high winds have not done anything to help those suffering from allergies.

Dr. Donald Cooke with Allergy and Asthma Specialists in Durango said based on pollen counts and the number of patients he has seen so far this spring, it is going to be a worse spring for allergies than it has been the past couple of years.

“I was just looking at the rods from over the weekend, and the pollen counts appear to be quite high,” he said. “I haven’t counted them yet, but just looking at them there seems to be a lot.”

Cooke said he noticed in his weekend collection a lot of cedar pollen, cottonwood pollen and elm pollen.

“I just started collecting pollen this weekend,” he said.

Strong winds from a low-pressure system kicked up dust and sent air quality into hazardous levels Monday night and Tuesday morning in Durango. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

Cooke said over-the-counter antihistamines should do the trick for most people experiencing allergies.

“Nasal steroids can also be really helpful, and they’re over the counter,” he said. “I see the people for whom nothing has worked.”

A bit of moisture Tuesday morning possibly brought some relief to those suffering from allergies, as the rain keeps the pollen out of the air, he said.

The Durango-La Plata Airport reported gusts up to 48 mph Tuesday morning, said Erin Walters, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.

“We’ve had a pretty strong low-pressure system trek across Western Colorado overnight and into Tuesday morning,” she said.

Walters said residents can expect lingering showers from that low-pressure system into Wednesday morning.


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