USU researchers examine dust that’s left behind as Great Salt Lake shrinks  

Apr 19, 2022, 6:42 PM | Updated: Jun 20, 2022, 1:34 pm

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.

LOGAN, Utah — A lot of unhealthy particulates in the air that we breathe could be coming from the drying bed of the Great Salt Lake.

When the wind whips up it blows that dust across the Wasatch Front and now researchers from Utah State University are trying to figure out what’s in all that dirt.

With historic low water levels, researchers are finding all kinds of stuff including some chemicals that were banned over 50 years ago.

“As a terminal lake, Great Salt Lake accumulates pollution from across its entire watershed,” said Molly Blakowski, a PhD student at Utah State University.

Molly Blakowski is a Phd student at Utah State University. (KSL TV) Janice Brahney is the USU assistant professor who is overseeing the study. (KSL TV) Researchers are using devices to capture the dust particles. (KSL TV) Researchers are using devices to capture the dust particles. (KSL TV) The exposed lakebed from the disappearing Great Salt Lake. (KSL TV)

She said there is a little bit of a lot of things in there and with more lakebed exposed now than ever before, researchers are getting a good look at all of that dust.

“It’s kind of like a bathtub without a drain. For over a century, the lakebed sediments have been slowly accumulating byproducts of human activities,” Blakowski said. “After three years of collecting dust on the dry lakebed of what used to be Farmington Bay, we’ve seen that the dust may contain elevated levels of potentially toxic heavy metals and man-made organic contaminants.”

Blakowski pointed out that we already know particulate matter is bad for our lungs. “But we don’t know what the synergistic effect is of breathing in arsenic and cyanotoxins and flame retardants at the same time,” she said.

Janice Brahney, the assistant professor overseeing the project said that’s where they’re hoping the data they gather will eventually lead.

“So, we need to identify how rapidly it deteriorates during transport and what the special and temporal dynamics of that type of emission is,” Brahney said.

Ideally, toxicologists and public health experts could take the data they’re gathering which would help understand what it means for human health she added.

The researchers are also looking at how those pollutants might affect the food that we eat as it gets into area farms and ranches.

They’re also trying to determine where all of those contaminants they’re finding are coming from.

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USU researchers examine dust that’s left behind as Great Salt Lake shrinks