Legal Insight. Business Instinct.

Be on the Lookout for Fugitive Dust

The Idaho Right to Farm Act protects Idaho farmers and ranchers in their farming activities. However, that protection only applies to the extent that the farming operation does not break the law. There is no protection under the right to farm law for the “improper or negligent operation of an agricultual operation.” Idaho Code § 22-4505. This is defined to mean that the agricultural operation is not undertaken “in conformity with federal, state and local laws and regulations or permits, and adversely affects the public health and safety.” Idaho Code § 22-4502(4).

Creating large amounts of dust in your farming and ranching operation can break the law. Idaho regulates so-called “fugitive dust.” Like its name implies, fugitive dust is dust that has escaped into the air because of human activities, such as driving a truck down a dirt road or harvesting grain. Fugitive dust consists of small particulate matter suspended in the air.

Particulates are dangerous to humans. When inhaled particulates can travel into the lungs and cause lung damage, respiratory illness, and premature death. Particulates are most harmful to children, adults who are active outdoors, and those with respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.

The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality requires that all “reasonable precautions” be taken to prevent particulates from becoming airborne. Reasonable precautions include “using water or chemical, applying dust suppressants, using control equipment, covering trucks, paving, and removing materials.”

Farmers and ranchers typically raise a little dust during normal agricultural activities. Harvesting crops creates dust. Working cattle creates dust. Plowing, discing and tilling create dust. However, farmers and ranchers do not typically take extraordinary efforts to reduce fugitive dust.

Under the regulations of the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality farmers and ranchers could be fined as much as $10,000 for a violation of Idaho’s air pollution rules. While apparently rare, some fines have been issued. One Idaho farmer was reportedly fined by the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality for the dust created while grinding grain.

However, before you you drive a water truck behind your combine, be advised that Idaho legislators have become aware of the issue and vow to change the law at the next legislative session. Meanwhile, farmers and ranchers should be on the lookout for loose cattle, wandering sheep, and fugitive dust.
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