Politics & Government

State: Macon’s air pollution surge caused by African desert

Georgia’s environmental regulators say a burst of air pollution found in Macon this summer came straight from Africa.

Unusual weather patterns forced a concentration of dust from the Sahara Desert into parts of Georgia, they say.

The Georgia Environmental Protection Division filed paperwork Wednesday saying it plans to contest the readings with federal regulators because of the unusual nature of the pollution, which is termed an “exceptional event.”

The heavy pollution was detected in Macon’s Allied Industrial Park as well as locations in Albany. On July 1, Macon’s concentration of fine air particles, called PM2.5, was at 24.5 micrograms per cubic meter, below the 24-hour limit of 35. By the next day, however, Macon’s readings had increased nearly 60 percent, to 39.6 micrograms per cubic meter.

The state says that number is “exceptional due to natural uncontrollable and unpreventable circumstances.” Tropical Storm Arthur and a high-pressure ridge of air helped bring along the Saharan dust from Africa, into the Gulf of Mexico and then into the Southeast, the EPD’s documentation suggests. Testing showed unusual concentrations of silicon, a common element of sand.

The high readings were enough to push up the annual average. In the last three years, the average has been about 11 micrograms per cubic meter, or less than a third of the daily allowed rate. Macon exceeded that daily limit once each in 2012, 2013 and 2014, according to state data.

The state is accepting public comment on its Documentation of 2014 Exceptional Events for 30 days through the Air Protection Branch, 4244 International Parkway, Suite 120, Atlanta, GA 30354, or to DeAnna.Oser@dnr.state.ga.us.

To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.