Surveys conducted by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) in 2007, 2010, 2011 and 2016 indicate that 90% of Alaskan communities report road dust as a problem (DEC 2018). The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) (1998) estimates up to one inch of surface aggregate is lost on unpaved roads annually. That equates to 10 million tons of dust released into the atmosphere (EPA 2017). This poses health hazards, safety concerns, and environmental impacts along these roads, degrading the mobility of both people and goods to communities connected by such roads.
Researchers from the Pacific Northwest Transportation Consortium (PacTrans) at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) have been working with Alaska state agencies and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to reduce dust in rural Alaskan communities through institutional controls, improvements in surfacing materials and the use of dust suppressants. Until now, there was no available testing for the effectiveness of dust suppressants before they were applied. As a result, selection of dust suppressants was made through manufacturer’s literature, word of mouth, and experience. With more than 250 available products, there was often confusion as to which product was most appropriate for road conditions. Application
of these suppressants is costly—$10,000-$20,000 per mile—so getting it right is important as this can represent the entire road maintenance budget for small communities.