Thursday, Sept. 25, 2003 | 8:43 a.m.
"Dusty the Dusthole" will be the star of a new multi-media advertising campaign warning about dust that was unveiled Wednesday by Clark County.
The pickup-driving star of the campaign kicks up dust driving off roads, and the county's Air Quality Management Department hopes the campaign will raise awareness that dust is a health threat -- and that more than a third of the airborne dust in the Las Vegas Valley comes from drivers such as Dusty.
Christine Robinson, air quality director, said 36 percent of the region's fine dust -- technically referred to as particulate matter under 10 microns in diameter, or PM10 -- comes from such bad driving habits. In a television spot for the campaign, Dusty drives around traffic on an unpaved road shoulder, then peels across a vacant lot. Where Dusty drives, clouds of dust follow.
The ad concludes: "The dust we raise is the dust we breathe."
While the ads are humorous, the problem is not, speakers said during a presentation Wednesday. Dr. Jim Christensen, a Las Vegas allergy and immunology specialist and vice chairman of the Clark County District Board of Health, said the elderly, children and people with existing medical problems are particularly sensitive to health effects from too much dust in the air.
The particles of dust are so fine that they can go deep into the lungs and cause significant respiratory problems, he said.
"Clean air is everyone's business, and especially my business because my patients suffer the most," Christensen said. "On days when we have high winds and high dust conditions, there is an increased utilization of emergency room services."
Clark County Manager Thom Reilly warned that federal sanctions, including the potential loss of an estimated $200 million in federal road funding, are at stake if the region cannot control the dust pollution problem.
Reilly said the region is designated as a federal nonattainment area for fine dust pollution. Sanctions could kick in by 2006 unless the air is kept clean.
Robinson said dust, contrary to what many people think, is not a natural part of the desert environment. The sandy crust that forms on the desert surface can withstand winds of 35 mph or more before dust becomes airborne. But when that surface is disturbed, even a slight wind will pick up and carry the dust for miles, Robinson said.
"Desert air can be some of the healthiest, cleanest air on earth," Robinson said. "The challenge in our growing valley is to work together as a community to keep man-made sources of dust down as much as possible."
The air is cleaner today that it was in 1998, when air quality specialists, then with the Clark County Health District, began drafting dust-control rules that Robinson called "the most stringent in the country."
Robinson said the majority of dust at that time, 37 percent, came from construction activity. Since then, the portion of dust from construction has dropped to 27 percent.
Clark County's in-house staff at Channel 4, the county's cable television station, and Thomas Puckett Advertising produced the $170,000 campaign. The campaign will target men aged 18 to 54, the demographic Robinson said did most of the bad driving creating the dust.
The campaign will include television, radio, billboards and newspaper advertising, she said.