Air Quality Monitoring: Frequently Asked Questions


A state contractor monitors dust levels at a cleanup site in Phoenix.


Protecting air quality is an important part of the Step 2 cleanup process.

Dust from cleanup work can enter the air and degrade air quality, so cleanup crews are using several overlapping methods to control dust, and using dedicated staff to visually monitor dust levels on every cleanup site. If the monitoring staff observes excessive dust, they'll call for work to be paused. Crews will address the dust issue, then resume work.


We're also collecting air samples from some cleanup sites and surrounding communities. Samples are analyzed in a laboratory, and are used to ensure our dust control methods are working.


Air Quality Monitoring FAQ


Why are you monitoring air quality during fire debris cleanup?

Air quality can become unhealthy when too much dust from fire debris gets in the air. Therefore, in order to protect Oregonians, state contractors are controlling and watching for dust at every site.


How will you make sure the air we’re breathing is safe?

Contractors will make sure the debris removal doesn’t make the air unhealthy by:

  • Marking off the work area perimeters with construction tape. While there may be some dust in the work areas where contractors are wearing protective equipment, dust shouldn’t go outside the marked area.

  • Workers will use several overlapping methods to ensure dust levels stay low, like wetting the soil and limiting work during high winds.

  • Workers will constantly visually monitor the work site, making sure dust levels stay low and no dust is leaving the marked work area.

  • At some sites, dedicated air monitoring staff will measure dust in real-time and collect samples for laboratory analysis at the perimeter of the work area to confirm that dust control efforts are effective.

Together, all of these precautions will keep dust levels to a minimum and ensure air quality stays healthy. If workers see dust leaving the work area, they will take immediate action, such as applying additional water. If they continue to observe high dust levels, they will pause work and address its source before resuming.


Air monitoring staff may place sampling and monitoring equipment in communities when ash and debris removal is happening near populated areas to provide additional assurance that dust control efforts on-site are effective. The samples will be tested in a laboratory for contaminants associated with wildfire debris, such as asbestos and metals.


What are cleanup teams doing to control dust in work areas?

The following measures may be used to control dust:

  • Covering piles of soil, ash and debris with tarps

  • Wetting down the soil, ash and other debris

  • Limiting speed of vehicles in the work area

  • Limiting work during high-winds

  • Using safe practices for handling and excavating ash and debris on the work site

  • Covering debris in trucks before it driven away

  • Cleaning vehicle tires before they leave the site


What will you be monitoring for?

State contractors are monitoring dust levels, also called particulate matter, with real-time dust monitors at select locations. Dust measurements help us understand if the controls are effective. In addition, contractors are collecting samples for laboratory analysis. The laboratory samples will be analyzed for wildfire debris contaminants like metals and asbestos.


Where will you be monitoring?

State contractors will use dust control and visual monitoring — two strategies proven to be effective at protecting air quality and public health — at every work site.


In addition, some sites will have dedicated air monitoring staff who will measure dust levels in real-time and collect samples for laboratory analysis and the work area perimeter. These dedicated air monitor staff will rotate to different work sites each day, and prioritize sites that are located near sensitive populations such as residences, schools and hospitals.


When ash and debris removal is happening near populated areas, air monitoring staff may add an additional layer of air quality monitoring in the community. This equipment will collect samples for laboratory analysis for wildfire debris contaminants, such as asbestos and metals.


What happens if your air monitors detect something bad? How will you correct the action?

If dust levels exceed a threshold called an “action level,” debris removal contractors will take immediate action. Contractors will pause work so they can address the issue. Work will stop until the source of the issue is identified and controlled. Air quality monitoring will continue while work is paused.


Air monitoring action levels are safety standards designed protect community members and vulnerable individuals, like the elderly or those with asthma. They are based on federally set health risk levels, air quality standards and worker protection standards. These standards consider the risk factors of vulnerable individuals, which means they are set levels that are too low to harm health.


If the action level is exceeded temporarily, it does not mean people will experience adverse health effects. Exceeded action levels act as alerts for contractors to investigate and correct issues.


The Wildfire Debris Management Task Force publishes weekly air monitoring reports on this blog, part of the weekly operation update posts.


What if private contractors are generating dust?

All contractors are required to control dust during removal of ash and debris, regardless of who hired them. Please alert the state about any dust issues by calling the wildfire debris cleanup hotline 503-934-1700 or emailing odot.wildfire@odot.state.or.us. If a private contractor is generating dust, your complaint will be sent to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality’s complaints staff.


Can I see the monitoring results somewhere?

Yes! The Wildfire Debris Management Task Force publishes weekly air monitoring reports on this blog, part of the weekly operations update posts.


Who should I reach out to if I have questions, concerns or see dust?

If you have any questions, concerns about dust in the air, please reach out to the wildfire debris cleanup hotline 503-934-1700 or email odot.wildfire@odot.state.or.us.


Wildfire waste and debris removal

The State of Oregon is working with federal, state and local partners to remove hazardous waste, and ash and debris from the 2020 Oregon wildfires safely, efficiently, and as quickly as possible. The Oregon Departments of Transportation, Environmental Quality and Emergency Management are leading the effort, with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency assistance.