MABTON, Wash. — Dust storms, such as the one blamed for three collisions Tuesday afternoon near Mabton, could be on the rise this season, according to the state Department of Ecology.
The National Weather Service predicts a hot, dry summer across much of Eastern Washington, and those conditions can increase the probability of dust storms, said Camille St. Onge, spokeswoman for the Ecology’s air quality programs.
The dust storm season arrives every spring, St. Onge said, and typically lasts until fall weather arrives.
Tuesday, a dust storm blew across State Route 241, just north of Mabton, limiting visibility for drivers.
The Washington State Patrol reported a series of collisions occurred just after 5 p.m., when the vehicles entered the dust storm. Three drivers slowed down because of the poor visibility and were each struck from behind by drivers who had not slowed sufficiently.
Six cars were involved and nine people total. The State Patrol reported that seven people were injured: Sunnyside residents Charles Robbins, 71, Angelita Serna, 64, and Angel Macias-Rodriguez, 21; Grandview resident Vanessa Fuerte, 19; and Mabton residents Edgar Amezcua-Alcala, 22, Clarivel Najera, 20, and Jayden Najera, 1.
Everyone was wearing seat belts, the patrol said. Robbins and Serna were transported to PMH Medical Center in Prosser, and Macias-Rodriguez, Fuerte and the Najeras were taken to Sunnyside Community Hospital, authorities said.
Robbins and Serna have been treated and released, a PMH spokesman said Wednesday. The Sunnyside Hospital is unable to release any information about patients’ conditions, a spokeswoman said.
In addition to increasing driving risks, the storms stir up small dust particles that can cause health problems when inhaled, especially for people with existing respiratory issues such as asthma and emphysema.
St. Onge believes its important to warn people about the health risks of dust storms so they can protect themselves.
“Have a dust mask in your car and at your home so you can protect your lungs,” she said.
She added that people who work outside in the summer should have masks handy to protect themselves if a dust storm blows up and there’s no indoor space available to wait in until the dust dies down.