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Questions and Answers - Magellan Tank Fire Response

Q: How does EPA measure air quality in the Kansas City metro area?

Air quality monitoring is routinely done by analyzing data from stationary air monitors that are owned and operated by the Kansas and Missouri state environmental departments and other cooperating local government agencies. Much of this data is available on a near real-time basis through websites maintained by the two states.
For Missouri: http://www.dnr.mo.gov/env/esp/aqm/kc.htm

For incidents such as the Magellan tank fire, EPA also works with other first responders to deploy field personnel who conduct air sampling with hand-held instruments. This helps to provide a "snapshot" of air quality conditions in a particular area at a particular moment in time.

In the case of the Magellan fire, EPA analyzed data that was gathered from more than 65 different locations, including stationary sites and incident-specific field locations.

Virtually all of the collected data eventually becomes accessible through the EPA's national air pollution data website, http://www.epa.gov/air/data/

Q: What specific components of air quality are being measured in regard to the Magellan tank fire?

Hand-held monitors have measured volatile organic compounds (VOCs), coarse and fine particulate matter, carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide, and benzene. Stationary monitors have measured ozone, fine and coarse particulate matter, and nitrogen dioxide.

Q: What are volatile organic compounds?

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are a broad group of chemical compounds that are emitted as gases from certain solids or liquids. VOCs include a variety of chemicals, some of which may have short- and long-term adverse health effects. VOCs may react with other pollutants to form photochemical oxidants (such as ozone) that can adversely affect human health.

Q: What is particulate matter?

Particulate matter, also known as particle pollution or PM, is a complex mixture of extremely small particles and liquid droplets. The size of particles is directly linked to their potential for causing health problems. Usually, EPA is most concerned about particles that are 10 micrometers in diameter or smaller because those are the particles that generally pass through the throat and nose and enter the lungs. EPA categorizes this particle pollution in two ways:

Once inhaled, these particles can affect the heart and lungs, especially in persons with diseases or conditions that may affect breathing, such as asthma, allergies, bronchitis, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Q: How do the pollutant measurements taken since the Magellan tank fire compare to federally established Significant Harm Levels?

So far, off-site sampling data for PM10 Particulate matter, PM2.5 particulate matter and benzene have all registered below the federally established levels, and therefore have not posed any significant public health threats.

Pollutant Magellan Tank Fire range Significant Harm Level
PM10 particulate matter nondetect to 557 micrograms per cubic meter 600 micrograms per cubic meter (24 hour average)
PM2.5 particulate matter nondetect to 169.2 micrograms per cubic meter 350 micrograms per cubic meter (24 hour average)
Benzene nondetect 9 parts per million
NOTE: Nondetect means readings were below the level of the equipment's ability to detect without error

Q: Has EPA issued any specific public health warnings in regard to the Magellan tank fire?

No. The agency has only urged a common-sense precaution, that breathing smoke from the fire should generally be avoided, as it may tend to exacerbate pre-existing respiratory conditions, such as asthma, allergies, bronchitis, COPD, or other breathing problems.

Q: Does EPA provide air quality forecasts?

EPA is part of AIRNOW, a multi-agency effort to provide localized air quality forecasts and other helpful information to advise the public of days when air quality values may be of concern. Go to www.airnow.gov

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