2010 Feb.: VA: Virginia Air Quality Monitoring (Particulates)

 

2010 Feb.: VA: Virginia Air Quality Monitoring (Particulates)

 

Virginia Department of Environmental Quality

February 2010

AIR QUALITY MONITORING

T

o ensure that all Virginians have healthy and clean

air to breathe, the Department of Environmental

Quality monitors Virginia’s air pollutant levels daily.

DEQ’s Offi ce of Air Quality Monitoring works with the

Environmental Protection Agency to uphold standards

for clean air under the U.S. Clean Air Act and monitors

for the following six main pollutants: ozone, sulfur dioxide,

nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, particle pollution

and lead.

When present in large concentrations, these pollutants

can cause health problems, including lung irritation

and cardiac stress, can aggravate conditions like asthma

and heart disease and can cause damage to crops

and forests. The EPA established the National Ambient

Air Quality Standards to regulate how much of each

pollutant is allowable in the air. The two agencies work

together to see that Virginia’s air meets these standards.

DEQ issues air quality forecasts for fi ne particulates in

the metropolitan areas of Richmond, Roanoke, Hampton

Roads and Winchester using meteorological, statistical

and collected data. The forecast for Northern Virginia

is issued through a collaborative eff ort with other

state and local meteorologists and monitoring personnel

in the greater Washington, D.C., metropolitan area.

Forecasts and other information are available on DEQ’s

air monitoring web site, http://www.deq.virginia.gov/airmon.

How DEQ monitors air quality

The DEQ Offi ce of Air Quality Monitoring is responsible

for organizing and maintaining the instruments

used in the monitoring network around

the Commonwealth and regularly retrieves data from

approximately 50 monitoring sites in the state. The

agency’s air data analysis group uses the data to make

forecasts of air quality.

V

irginia’s monitoring stations are primarily in or

near urban areas, such as Richmond, Roanoke,

Hampton Roads, Winchester and Northern Virginia.

Locations are determined by factors such as population

density, emissions sources, permitting needs, modeling

results and site accessibility. The offi ce works with the

Maryland, Washington, D.C., Alexandria and Fairfax

County to monitor air quality in Northern Virginia.

DEQ’s Anton Sorkin installs a particle pollution monitor at a

Henrico County site.

DEQ also operates some stations in rural areas that are

near these urban areas. They provide background air

quality data and help assess the amount of pollution

that urban areas contribute to surrounding air. In addition,

rural sites provide examples of long-range transport

of pollution that comes into Virginia from outside

its borders. For instance, the station in Shenandoah

National Park, which is 3,000 feet above sea level, allows

DEQ to observe pollutant concentrations high in

the atmosphere that could descend to more populated

areas.

T

he monitors used to measure air quality operate

continuously and must be located in secure, temperature-

controlled shelters that are powered with electricity

and connected to telephone service. The fi gures

are compiled and automatically sent to the DEQ and

EPA AIRNow web sites, where they are used to produce

maps and inform the public of the current Air Quality

Index (AQI), a calculated measurement of air quality

from ozone and fi ne particle pollution information over

several hours. A higher AQI indicates a higher level of

air pollution and, consequently, a greater potential for

health problems.

629 E. Main Street ~ Richmond, Virginia 23219

804-698-4000 ~ (toll-free in Virginia) 800-592-5482

http://www.deq.virginia.gov

Above: Rockpoint Overlook, Augusta County, Virginia

Air Quality Index

Levels of Health

Concern

Color Numerical

Value

Meaning

Good Green 0-50 Good air quality. Little or no health risk.

Moderate Yellow 51-100 Moderate air quality. People who are unusually sensitive

to air pollution may be mildly affected.

Unhealthy for

Sensitive Groups

Orange 101-150 Unhealthy for sensitive groups. These groups may experience

health problems due to air pollution.

Unhealthy Red 151-200 Unhealthy. The general public may experience mild health

effects. Sensitive groups may have more serious health

problems.

Very Unhealthy Purple 201-300 Very unhealthy. Everyone is susceptible to more serious

health problems.

The Air Quality Index is a measurement calculated daily from ozone and fi ne particle pollution measurements. It is color-coded by level

of health concern.

How monitoring information affects

Virginians

Virginia focuses primarily on monitoring ground level

ozone and particle pollution.

G

round-level ozone is a colorless gas formed by the

chemical reaction of pollutants from automobiles,

industries, and other sources, in the presence of sunlight.

Ozone is a seasonal pollutant and occurs mainly

in the summer months during weather periods of hot,

stagnant air. Ozone levels are signifi cantly lower in the

cooler months and, as a result, DEQ’s ozone monitors

run only from April 1 to October 31. Harmful ozone pollution

can lead to aggravated asthma or to infl ammation

and damage to the lungs.

P

article pollution consists of microscopic particles

of solids and liquid droplets suspended in air, some

of which are so small that they are only one-fi fth the

size of a human hair. This matter is made up of particles

found in soot, dust, smoke and fumes produced from

burning coal, oil, diesel and other fuels. These particles

are of greatest concern because they can be inhaled

deep into the lungs and cause respiratory issues or aggravate

existing lung and heart problems. Particle pollutants

have been linked to chronic bronchitis, asthma

and heart attacks.

DEQ maintains a daily log of current air quality conditions

at http://www.deq.virginia.gov/air and provides the information

to the EPA, news media and other state agencies.

The EPA’s AIRNow web site is another resource for

information on the daily AQI and is located at www.

epa.gov/airnow.

Future air monitoring issues

EPA made the national air quality standards for ozone

stricter in 2008 and is proposing to make the standard

even more strict in 2010 Many areas of Virginia may not

meet the new standard for ozone depending on where

EPA ultimately sets it. DEQ is working with EPA to devise

strategies to meet the new standard in all areas of

the state.

N

orthern Virginia has been designated nonattainment

for particles because it is part of the greater

Washington metropolitan area. Air quality has improved

in the Washington metropolitan area so that

the area is now meeting the 1997 standards. Information

from all other areas of the state shows Virginia

meets the standards for particles. Once new emissions

controls on PM2.5 precursors take eff ect, DEQ expects

that Virginia will have even better air quality in regard

to particulate matter.

As part of the future monitoring strategy, EPA is placing

added focus on air toxics monitoring. In addition,

EPA is reviewing the existing standards for sulfur dioxide,

carbon monoxide and oxides of nitrogen and is

placing greater emphasis on trace levels of these pollultants.

As a result, DEQ will be expanding its monitoring

network across the state.

O

nce Virginians are aware of the air quality in their

area, they can take precautionary steps to reduce

future problems and to stay safe and healthy. By reducing

emissions, the public can help reduce pollutants in

the air we breathe.

More information on DEQ’s eff orts is available on the

Offi ce of Air Quality Monitoring web site at http://www.deq.

virginia.gov/air.

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