Research Papers: Particulate matter

The disappearing Salton Sea: A critical reflection on the emerging environmental threat of disappearing saline lakes and potential impacts on children’s health.

By Jill E. Johnston, Mitiasoa Razafy, Humberto Lugo, Luis Olmedo, Shohreh F. Farzan

Science of the Total Environment


Changing weather patterns, droughts and competing water demands are dramatically altering the landscape and creating conditions conducive to the production of wind-blown dust and dust storms. In California, such factors are leading to the rapid shrinking of the Salton Sea, a 345 mile2 land-locked “sea” situated near the southeastern rural border region known as the Imperial Valley. The region is anticipated to experience a dramatic increase in wind-blown dust and existing studies suggest a significant impact on the health and quality of life for nearby residents of this predominantly low-income, Mexican-American community. The discussion calls attention to the public health dimensions of the Salton Sea crisis. We know little about the possible long-term health effects of exposure to mobilized lakebed sediments or the numerous toxic contaminants that may become respirable on entrained particles. We draw on existing epidemiological literature of other known sources of wind-blown dust, such as desert dust storms, and related health effects to begin to understand the potential public health impact of wind-blown dust exposure. The increased production of wind-blown dust and environmental exposures to such non-combustion related sources of particulate matter are a growing health threat, due in part to drought coupled with increasing pressures on limited water resources. Recent population-based studies have linked dust storms with cardiovascular mortality, asthma hospitalization and decrease in pulmonary function in both adults and children. A growing number of studies provide evidence of the acute health effects of wind-blown dust exposures among children, which with repeated insults have the potential to influence respiratory health over time. The shrinking of the Salton Sea illustrates a public health and environmental justice crisis that requires action and attention to protect the health and well-being of local communities.

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