Efforts to raise awareness about fine particle pollution...

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Efforts to raise awareness about fine particle pollution...

Postby Wilberforce » Thu Jan 25, 2018 11:02 am

Efforts to raise awareness about fine particle pollution continue in Keene

By Meghan Foley Sentinel Staff Jan 22, 2018 (…)

Every winter the city of Keene is on alert for poor air quality days.

They are days when the conditions are right for the fine particulate matter from wood smoke to be trapped in an inversion with cold air over the valley.

But despite the cold snaps and calm winds so far this winter, the inversion weather phenomenon that can be a danger to human health and the environment has yet to happen.

As of Thursday, the region hadn’t had a day this year where the level of fine particle pollution exceeded the federal health standard, Jeffrey T. Underhill, chief scientist of the Air Resources Division of the N.H. Department of Environmental Services, said last week.

The standard is 35 micrograms per cubic meter, and it is calculated as an average over a 24-hour period from midnight to midnight.

In fact, the last time the city exceeded the standard was in 2013.

If the standard is surpassed three or more times a year for three consecutive years, the state would have to implement a plan for the region to come into compliance, Underhill said.

That plan could result in other emission sources having to meet certain requirements, even though the majority of the fine particle pollution comes from residents burning wood, he said.

“This winter, in sort of a crazy way, we’ve been fortunate because of the weather,” Underhill said. “We’ve had some cold weather, but we’ve also not had weather that is real conducive to causing a large build-up of wood smoke in the Keene area.”

Three things need to happen simultaneously to cause an air inversion, he said.

The first is the weather being cold enough for people to burn wood, lots of it, and in ways that aren’t as environmentally friendly as others, he said.

These include, for example, using older wood stoves that aren’t certified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and fireplaces, he said.

Second, the winds need to be calm to prevent air from moving around and dispersing the particulates, he said.

Third, air pollution from another part of the country needs to be transported to the region to mix with the local emissions, he said.

“If we get all three, we can have some trouble,” he said.

What state environmental officials have seen are normal levels of fine particle matter during the day and higher concentrations at night, he said.

However, the levels of fine particulate matter at night don’t stay high enough for long enough to exceed the health standard, he said.

Still, that hasn’t stop community efforts to raise awareness about poor winter air quality in Keene, especially because the city’s location at the bottom of a geological bowl lends itself to air inversions.

“I think in part, with the geography of the region, you’re going to have cool days, and inversions are going to happen,” Eileen M. Fernandes, coordinator for the Greater Monadnock Public Health Network, said last week.

With that in mind, it’s really important to continue to educate people about the proper use of wood stoves to lessen the amount of fine particle emissions, she said. It’s also really important to educate people who have respiratory problems about changing their behaviors during a poor air quality event so they don’t put themselves in compromising situations, she said.

High levels of fine particles in the air can be problematic for young children, elderly residents and people with respiratory problems, she said. So much so that they sometimes have to change their activity levels for the day, she said.

In addition, emerging evidence shows that short-term exposure to high concentrations of wood smoke is not good for people either, Underhill said.

Out in the field

In 2012, Cheshire Medical Center joined with the Southwest Region Planning Commission, the Greater Monadnock Public Health Network, Keene State College and the N.H. Department of Environmental Services in the Greater Keene Air Quality Education Outreach Campaign to teach area residents about how their actions can help reverse the valley’s poor air quality.

Most recently, Nora Traviss, an associate professor of environmental studies at Keene State College, gave a presentation in November about wintertime air pollution in Keene.

She presented research based on data her students have collected since 2013, she said. That included a mobile monitoring campaign in 2014, when students drove around the city during the winter collecting data on the concentration of fine particulate matter, she said. What they found were differences in air quality across the city, she said.

“Some neighborhoods, especially those with high housing density, have the worst air quality,” she said.

They include much of the east side of the city, the area between Court and Washington streets, and the Maple Acres neighborhood, she said.

Mobile monitoring is something that can’t be done every year because it’s resource intensive, she said. Her students are trying to address that by testing inexpensive air monitors to see if they’re reliable and rugged enough to be left in the field to collect air quality data year to year, she said.

Meanwhile, the monitoring done so far this year has shown no improvement from 2014, she said.

Besides measuring air quality levels, a 2013 pilot study involving the N.H. Department of Health and Human Services, Keene State College and Cheshire Medical Center looked at whether cases of childhood asthma in Cheshire County were linked to wood smoke emissions.

The study focused on records from the hospital’s emergency department, Traviss said. While the records showed a “relative increase” of asthma and acute respiratory illnesses in children under 17 years old, it wasn’t “statistically significant” to show that wood smoke could be the cause, she said.

“Part of the issue is Keene has such a small population; we may not be able to see the effect,” she said.

Making progress

The state has been monitoring particles in the air since the 1970s, with the first measurements from Keene being taken in 1971, Underhill said.

In 1990, updated equipment was installed to measure smaller particles known as PM10, he said.

The N.H. Department of Environmental Services started looking at fine particulate matter, or PM2.5, in 1999, and that’s when staff became concerned about Keene, he said.

“Back in the early 2000s, we actually were seeing some monitor filters being returned to the lab with observations being made that they smelled like smoke,” he said.

Around that time, his agency started looking more carefully at why some communities were seeing a lot of wood smoke and others not as much, he said.

Then a new measuring device came out around 2005, and that allowed environmental officials to see what was happening with air quality on an hour-by-hour basis, he said.

“That was really an eye opener for us. We saw how high it went at night and when it was clear out during the day,” he said.

Two programs, one in 2009-10 and the other in 2015-16, provided vouchers to people in the Keene area to pay for changing out old wood stoves with more efficient and cleaner-burning ones.

The Greater Keene Air Quality Education Outreach Campaign, which includes showing people how to burn wood so it releases less fine particles into the atmosphere, is ongoing.

Cheshire Medical Center officials say they plan to launch a widget on the hospital’s website in the coming weeks, and a corresponding smartphone application, to let people know the air quality forecast.

“We’re making progress,” Underhill said. “We’d still like to see more old wood stoves swapped out with new ones, and we’re certainly continuing to encourage people who use wood for heating purposes to burn it properly.”

Making those two changes could go a long way in bringing down fine particulate pollution in the region, he said.

http://www.sentinelsource.com/news/envi ... 24ced.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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