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Impact of wind erosion raises concern in Australia

Wind erosion impacts on people's health and imposes costs on industry, infrastructure and households a new study by the CSIRO (Commonwealth Science and Industrial Research Organisation) finds.

The study estimates that wind erosion may be costing South Australians as much as $23 million a year, based on links to asthma.

Research by CSIRO's Land and Water's Policy and Economic Research Unit indicates that there may be a case for public investment in measures to reduce or prevent wind erosion occurring in the State's rural areas. This depends on assumptions about the impact of wind erosion on people prone to asthma attacks.

While the research focussed on SA the team says that, in principle, their findings may apply in other States and Territories of Australia and in overseas countries affected by similar dusty conditions.

The team has combined information from the United States with that from Australia to develop an assessment of the cost of wind erosion to people living in South Australia. This research was undertaken for Primary Industry and Resources South Australia.

South Australia's last big dust storm was on 24th May 1994. Visibility at Adelaide's airport dropped to 300 metres. While severe dust storms are rare, occurring on average about once in ten years over Adelaide and much of the State, the city experiences about 8.5 days a year when dust in the air may be sufficient to aggravate asthma attacks and other lung problems.

"There has been no research in South Australia on the question of whether or not dust from rural areas causes asthma. The best we have are results from a series of surveys in Queensland."

"These studies suggest the cost to the State of dust related asthma is estimated at between $10m and 50m a year, most likely about $20m, chiefly lost in absenteeism from work and school," Mike Young says.

It is possible that as much as 20% of the State's asthma problems may be linked with wind borne dust.

"If wind erosion and asthma are not linked, then the cost to the public of wind erosion is much less on average, only about $4 million per annum" Mike Young says.

The study estimates costs for a typical year using data from many sources. This includes impacts on the State's transport and power infrastructure.

"Based on the last 4 major dust storms, it is estimated there had been an additional twelve motor accidents brought about by drivers not fully appreciating the risks of driving in very dusty conditions when visibility is poor," Peter Williams says

"Dust storms also affected roads and involved local councils in extra repair and maintenance costs removing drifts. Most of these costs, however, can be recovered from landholders.'

"The Electricity Trust of SA found it was necessary to clean transformers after severe dust storms because of the risk of power leakage and failures.

"The aviation industry had also sometimes found it necessary to divert flights because the runway was obscured by dust."

But the greatest cost, about $3m a year, is to householders involved in extra maintenance and cleanup after a storm. Surprisingly, Peter Williams and Mike Young could find little evidence of addition costs to factories. Typically, factories have regular cleaning schedules and clean on a regular basis anyway.

The total off-site costs of wind erosion were estimated to be greatest for the City of Adelaide, at an estimated $16m a year, followed by the Onkaparinga District, the Riverland, and the Murray Mallee. Impact costs are very much a function of how many people live there.

More information: Mike Young, CSIRO Land and Water (00618) 8303 8665 or or link to

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