EPA Region 3
Topic: Air Monitoring
Joan Schafer: Lately there has been a lot of media attention focused on air monitoring.
Hi, I'm Joan Schafer at the EPA's mid-Atlantic region and welcome to Environment Matters, our new series of podcasts.
We are talking today with Drew Hass who specializes in air monitoring networks at EPA. Drew, what is this seven foot tall awkward looking metal structure that we're standing in front of today?
Drew Hass:This is a PM 2.5 monitor. Would you like to see how it works?
Joan Schafer: Sure.
Sound of the PM 2.5 monitor turning on and running.
Drew Hass: This monitor collects tiny particles called particulate matter on a filter. These tiny specs of soot and dust are approximately 2.5 microns in diameter or even smaller.
Joan Schafer: Drew, 2.5 Microns? Tell me, just how big or small is that?
Drew Hass: That's about 40 times smaller than a diameter of a typical human hair.
Joan Schafer: Alright, so how does this thing work?
Drew Hass: This monitor has a box that contains a simple computer for the brain and also a pump that draws air through a filter. It's designed to measure concentration of PM 2.5 in the atmosphere.
Joan Schafer: Drew, I'm not an air expert but why do we monitor for PM 2.5?
Drew Hass: When we breathe, these tiny 2.5 particles can get past our nose hairs and go deep into our lungs. Health studies have shown that short and long term exposure to high levels of these particles can cause heart and/or lung problems.
Joan Schafer: Is PM 2.5 the primary air pollutant that's monitor out there?
Drew Hass: In addition to PM 2.5, there are other networks across the country that monitor for other air pollutants - - such as PM10, ground-level ozone, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and lead.
Joan Schafer: But why?
Drew Hass: Well, we are required to monitor these six pollutants because they can harm our health and the environment.And what we do at EPA is fund state and local agencies to locate and run the network of air monitors.
Joan Schafer: And how is the data from this air monitor used?
Drew Hass: Some of the data is reported in real time and is available on the web. This is especially helpful for people with asthma or sensitive populations like very young children or the elderly, with them knowing the information they can plan their outdoor activities depending the quality of the air.
The data also lets us know if areas is meeting required national air quality standards and if not, what areas need additional controls. This data is also important for scientific research.
Joan Schafer: And what are we seeing particularly in our region?
Drew Hass: Right now in the mid-Atlantic, the two greatest air pollution challenges are ground-level ozone and PM 2.5 which is this monitor right here. We have over 100 monitoring stations throughout the region and they monitor the various pollutants that I mentioned before.
Joan Schafer: And overall, what is it that you are finding?
Drew Hass: Since the Clean Air Act was enacted in 1970, air quality has improved in the United States. However, there is still more that we must do to ensure healthy air quality for the country.
Joan Schafer: Drew, I can't thank you enough and for our listeners to learn more about air quality they can go to www.airnow.gov (a-i-r-n-o-w.gov). And thank you to all of you for joining us on Environment Matters our new series of podcasts.