If Lane County has a bad air day, at least one of the eight machines will know.
The Lane Regional Air Protection Agency, the state’s only local air quality agency, constantly deciphers the results of eight monitors to determine when investigations and warnings are needed. These monitors help keep county air within federal standards by tracking common pollutants and, in some cases, toxins that are not federally regulated.
“Having this monitoring data available in a way that is easily accessible, for the public, allows them to take action to reduce exposure and protect their health,” said LRAPA spokesperson Travis Knudsen. “The other benefit is that we can demonstrate to the federal government that our air quality is meeting standards or, if not, how it is improving.”
LRAPA’s primary source of air quality data comes from its monitors, which are located at sites across the county chosen based on criteria such as population density, wind patterns and areas of concern.
Monitoring of different pollutants
LRAPA monitors mainly monitor the presence of ozone and fine particles in the air, pollutants largely created respectively by vehicle traffic and wood combustion. Inhaling amounts of particulates and ozone is harmful.
“The number one pollutant concern in our region has been particulates,” said Lance Giles, LRAPA’s air monitoring and data quality coordinator. “Ozone in our area is only a summer issue. We monitor from early May to late September.”
The fine particles, called PM 2.5, have a size easily absorbed by inhalation and difficult to dislodge.
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Seven LRAPA monitoring sites monitor the presence of PM 2.5 in the air. The monitors are equipped with two devices that regularly take samples of ambient air and test them.
Nephelometers illuminate the air sucked in to measure the amount reflected.
“The dirtier the air, the more signals it receives,” Giles said.
A beta attenuation monitor collects particles on a strip of tape which is struck by radiation. It measures fine particles by reading the amount of radiation that can pass through the adhesive tape.
“The more particles on the strip, the less beta radiation gets through,” he said.
LRAPA also deployed 90 PurpleAir sensors throughout the county. Smaller, cheaper monitors collect air quality data from particles in more localized areas.
LRAPA’s ozone monitors are fewer in number, largely located in places where the agency expects the pollutant to have the most impact. Although ozone is usually only a problem on sunny, warm days, it is not always locally created and can drift downwind from its source.
There are two ozone monitors: one in Saginaw and one in Amazon Park in Eugene.
“On weekends and holidays the levels will drop because there aren’t the same traffic patterns,” Giles said. “Their location depends on where we think the ozone is going to circulate.”
Ozone devices are about the size of a stereo and draw ambient air through a Teflon probe into an instrument that uses a light source to measure ozone three times per minute.
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Particulate and ozone data is collected by LRAPA and forwarded to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, which provides it to the federal government to prove the county is meeting air quality standards .
Two airborne toxin detectors are for local use only.
“The toxin thing is simpler, it just requires a lot of lab work,” Giles said.
Toxin monitors draw air over media such as filters or foam for 24 hours, he said. Samples are sent to laboratories, which then test the medium for specific airborne toxins.
These toxins include pesticides or volatile organic compounds such as formaldehyde.
Cleaner Air Oregon, a recently enacted state law, regulates more toxic chemicals than the federal government. Local air monitoring is used to find pollutants covered by Cleaner Air Oregon in ambient air, which then informs the agency of potential areas of concern so that interventions can be implemented later.
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What do we do with the data?
While much of the data serves to show that federal Lane County areas are within range of air quality standards, it is also a good tool for identifying local issues.
Only one location in Lane County, the Oakridge area, currently does not meet federal air quality standards. Located in a valley and with wood stoves a popular indoor heat source, Oakridge struggles to meet federal particulate standards.
LRAPA and Oakridge partners have worked together successfully over the years to improve air quality in the region. LRAPA is now seeking a new federal designation for Oakridge to reflect the improvements and ensure the area is listed as meeting air quality standards.
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But when tracking deeper issues, the data leads to warnings and investigations.
“It’s virtually impossible to take a monitor monitoring ambient air and use that data to identify it to a specific source,” Knudsen said. “It doesn’t outline a source.”
When monitoring air quality issues, LRAPA issues public warnings so area residents can protect themselves. While a wildfire could be the obvious reason why particulate levels are high, the data is a starting point to finding out for sure.
“Just looking at this data, there’s no idea what could be causing this spike,” Knudsen said. “It is up to the LRAPA or the regulators to investigate what that cause may be.”
Check Lane County air quality
For information on LRAPA and the 24-Hour Air Quality Index and links to other programs: lrapa.org
LOCATIONS OF LRAPA MONITORS
Florence: fine particle monitors
Santa Clara: Particulate Monitors
Eugene, Highway 99 and Elmira Road: monitors for airborne particulates and toxics
Eugene, Amazon Park: monitors particulates, air toxics and ozone
Springfield, City Hall: particle monitors
Saginaw: monitors for ozone only
Cottage Grove: monitors fine particles
Oakridge, Willamette Activity Center: monitors particles
AIR QUALITY SENSOR LOCATIONS
These low-cost air quality sensors are used to collect hyperlocal particulate matter (PM) data. To see their locations, go to lrapa.org/301/Particulate-Matter-Air-Sensors.
Contact journalist Adam Duvernay at [email protected] Follow on Twitter @DuvernayOR.