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Tracking Air Pollution to Improve Your Health

Air Pollutant trackers

This summer, EPA scientists began sampling air across Cleveland, Ohio, to better understand the links between sources of air pollution and adverse health effects. The research will be used to develop new tools and models for air quality managers to reduce and control air pollutants at their source.

Air pollution sources are varied, ranging from motor vehicles to industry, power plants, agriculture and home equipment such as lawn mowers. They can also be formed photochemically in the air from different sources. As scientists analyze the air samples obtained in the study, they look for chemical components that can lead them to their source or sources. They will also measure the amount or concentration of pollutants, which is important in determining potential health impacts.

The information will provide regulators with the ability to develop more customized strategies for controlling air pollutants emanating from specific sources. This targeted approach can lead to more cost effective and efficient regulation.

For example, if analysis shows motor vehicles are the main source of air pollution in a given area, then changing fuels, reducing vehicle miles traveled, or changing traffic patterns may be most effective in reducing pollution in that area. If samples show a primary source is a power plant or particular industry, then installing pollution-control equipment for those particular pollutants should reduce emissions and subsequently lower the airborne levels of the pollutants.

"The combination of measurements taken provides new information on local, urban, and rural differences for a wide range of air pollutants," says Dr. Gary Norris of EPA's National Exposure Research Laboratory and one of the principal investigators for the Cleveland Multiple Air Pollutant Study, or CMAPS.

Models developed will help predict the different levels of air pollutants that people are exposed to, and will be used in health effects studies to learn more about which sources may be important for understanding the impact of air pollutants on health. Measurements also will be used to evaluate and improve advanced modeling tools that can be used in future air quality modeling analyses in Cleveland and other areas of the United States.

The study is being conducted in two parts:

Cleveland was chosen as the study site because the city's air quality is affected by many local and regional air pollution sources. Plus, two existing air monitoring sites have shown levels of air pollution that exceed current national PM air quality standards. Data and modeling analyses using CMAPS measurements will continue through 2011.

EPA scientists are partnering with local air quality and public health professionals to carry out their research. Partners include the Cleveland Department of Public Health's Division of Air Quality, Akron Regional Air Quality Management District, and Ohio EPA.

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