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Great Salt Lake Collaborative
Great Salt Lake is at its lowest water level on record and continues to shrink. Utah Public Radio has teamed up with more than a dozen Utah organizations for the Great Salt Lake Collaborative, a group that has come together to share multimedia stories and rigorous reports about the lake and ways to protect this critical body of water before it's too late.

USU study looks at dust blowing off dry Great Salt Lake beds and how it contributes to pollution

Great Salt Lake storm
Pixabay
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Pixabay

“Climate change and unsustainable water use have turned 50% of Great Salt Lake to dust or potential dust,” said Molly Blakowski.

She is one of the PhD students analyzing the dust from the crusty dry lake bed around Farmington Bay, which has dramatically receded.

Great Salt Lake is a terminal lake. Blakowski says it’s like a bathtub without a drain and so it accumulates pollution - that includes natural and humanmade chemicals and heavy metals that can turn into contaminated dust.

“Dust getting kicked up is a common thing across the American West,” said Jeffrey Perala-Dewey.

Perala-Dewey is working with Blakowski on this study.

“But what’s unique about the Great Salt Lake, and the dust that’s being kicked up here is that these sediments have been polluted by urban and industrial and agricultural inputs for a very long time. So that’s what makes this dust potentially very concerning,” said Perala-Dewey.

In addition to measuring the airborne dust, Blakowski and Perala-Dewey are trying to figure out where it’s going and say it’s likely traveling to mountain ecosystems.

“It could be depositing on Wasatch snowpack, it could also be transported to communities adjacent to the lake,” said Blakowski.

According to their study, the most polluted areas are near communities.

“We can say that Farmington Bay does pose potentially large risks to human health in the area based on the amount of pollution that's there, and its potential to generate dust,” said Perala-Dewey.

They say you can still enjoy the lake but it’s best to avoid it during a dust storm.

You can read the KSL Newsradio story by Kira Hoffelmeyer here.

This article is published through the Great Salt Lake Collaborative, a solutions journalism initiative that partners news, education and media organizations to help inform people about the plight of the Great Salt Lake — and what can be done to make a difference before it is too late.