Puget Sound Winter Air Quality Has Greatly Improved

Discussion on health consequences of air particulates

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Puget Sound Winter Air Quality Has Greatly Improved

Postby Wilberforce » Wed Oct 14, 2015 6:22 pm

Puget Sound Winter Air Quality Has Greatly Improved
Sunday, October 4, 2015

These days there is a lot of talk about environmental problems, but there is one great success story we should not forgot: the substantial improvement in air quality around the nation, and specifically here in the Puget Sound region.

Here is a plot of the levels of small particles (PM2.5, smaller than 2.5 microns), capable of moving deep into the lungs, at Kent, Washington (provided to me by Nick Bond, state climatologist) from 1990 to now during the winter. You will note a big drop during the 1990s, with levels now a quarter of what they had been.

What about larger particles at Kent (PM 10)? Major decreases!

Want to know about Seattle? Huge drops in PM10 (see below). The red lines shows the warming level of the national air quality standards. Seattle exceeded in in the late 80s and early 90s. Now we are well below.

Live in Tacoma? Big improvements there as well.

Or consider the number of days of moderate or worse air quality over King County: a big decline in the 1990s

I could show you many more statistics, but you get the picture: the concentration of small particles has radically lessened in our region. A boon to the health of Puget Sound residents, particularly those that are sensitive to poor air quality.

So why has air quality gotten better? There are many reasons.

Probably the most important is the reduction in wood burning by our local residents and better wood stoves. We are simply burning less wood and fireplaces and wood stoves have been a huge source of particles and toxics.

Back in the 80s, the Seattle Times was FULL of ads for wood stoves. Many new homes had wood fireplaces. The situation is very different today. The ads are gone. Wood burning is less popular, and many homes have gas fireplaces. Just as important, Federal and local regulations have required that new wood stoves are far less polluting.

A lot of credit should be given to local and Federal air quality agencies such as Puget Sound Clean Air Agency (PSCAA), the State Dept. of Ecology, and EPA, who have worked aggressively to reduce emissions. Only low-emission wood stoves are now sold as result of their actions. When the meteorology is poor for dispersion of pollutants (weak winds, strong and low level inversion), agencies such as PSCAA call burn bans that restrict burning wood other than for primary heating.

Local, state, and Federal agencies have also worked to reduce emissions from cars, trucks, and large vessels, in addition to lessening emissions from industrial sources.

Getting back to wood. In general, it is a very dirty and polluting way to heat a home (see graphic from PSCAA). Natural gas is hugely better and inexpensive natural gas has encouraged folks to use this fuel.

Meteorologically, we are now moving into the worst air quality season for home fireplace/stove smoke. Nights are getting longer and cooler, so folks want to get the wood burning. But this is also the season of strongest, low-level inversions, as relatively clear skies allow the surface to radiate heat to space, producing an inversion---warming of air with height. Inversions are very stable and tend to act as atmospheric caps that keep pollutants, like smoke, near the surface. Winds are also relative light this time of year, before the big storms approach.

Want a good example of a low-level inversion? Consider this morning! Here is the temperature plots with height at the Sand Point (Seattle) vertical profiler, run by the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency. Large increase in temperature with height in the lowest several hundred meters of the atmosphere. Pollutants will be trapped near the surface. And air quality has declined at some locations around the Puget Sound region.

Some folks in rural neighborhoods love burning wood. But during inversion situations, they end of seriously polluting their own air and that of their neighbors. I can't tell you how many times I have seen situations like this, with dense smoke coming out of a fireplace that does not loft because of an inversion. Not good.

The worst wood smoke air quality tends to be in valleys, where the smoke and low-level cool air below the inversion tends to pool. Some of the low areas of Lake Forest Park, north of Seattle, are notorious. What is happening there this morning with the strong inversion? (see graphic of small particle levels). Oh oh....bad news. A spike in particle concentrations.

So the bottom line is that regional air quality has greatly improved, particularly in reducing small particle pollution. But wood smoke is still a serious issue, particularly during inversion conditions and in valley areas.

Posted by Cliff Mass at 8:33 AM

http://cliffmass.blogspot.com/2015/10/p ... y-has.html
• The Surgeon General has determined that there is no safe level of exposure to ambient smoke!

• If you smell even a subtle odor of smoke, you are being exposed to poisonous and carcinogenic chemical compounds!

• Even a brief exposure to smoke raises blood pressure, (no matter what your state of health) and can cause blood clotting, stroke, or heart attack in vulnerable people. Even children experience elevated blood pressure when exposed to smoke!

• Since smoke drastically weakens the lungs' immune system, avoiding smoke is one of the best ways to prevent colds, flu, bronchitis, or risk of an even more serious respiratory illness, such as pneumonia or tuberculosis! Does your child have the flu? Chances are they have been exposed to ambient smoke!
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