The “downsizing” of pollution monitors
By Rose Schneider
April 21, 2015
A University at Albany professor is developing means of smaller, more portable air pollution monitors.
James Schwab, of the Atmospheric Sciences and Research Center, is examining the impact of wood smoke on air quality in the Adirondacks, using air quality monitors that are approximately the size of a refrigerator.
The research will be supported by a $510,000 contract from the New York State Energy and Research Development Association.
Schwab is also planning to study Adirondack air quality with fellow State University of New York researchers, Eric Leibensperger of SUNY Plattsburgh and Huiting Mao of the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, on a proposal to the SUNY Research Foundation. Under this project he hopes to implement air quality monitors that are small enough to fit on a desktop.
The larger monitors of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA)-sponsored project will be situated in pairs, with one near a source of pollution and one in an area where the pollution is likely to be more dispersed.
“This field as a whole is evolving towards studying much more local environments,” Schwab said. “So within the air pollution standards and the regulations that are now in place we are looking at community wide measurements.”
According to Schwab, the Adirondack community is different than other mountainous regions, such as the Swiss Alps, where air pollution pools in valley areas. Rather, in the Adirondacks, the pollutants are dispersed. Schwab said this makes it a prime area to study pollution. According to Schwab, wood smoke can be up to over a 1/4th of the particulate matter (aerated liquids and solids) pollution in the North Country.
Some residents of the Adirondacks have not responded well to news of this project, but Schwab is hopeful that most will understand the project and its impact.
“People were all up in arms thinking you weren’t going to be able to light a camp fire,” he said. “I think if people find out what it is we’re really doing, than the vast majority would be perfectly fine with it.”
Though less damaging to the environment than tobacco smoke and diesel exhaust, wood smoke is similar, Schwab said. The smoke also contains carbonaceous compounds known as poly-aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, which have known toxicities, he said. However, he also note that there is a range to the harmful effects from various types of biomass burned, from the effects of a wood stove to the much more harmful effects of burning garbage.
“We don’t know all the answers, we don’t know all the compounds that are emitted,” he said. “But we do know that many of them do have detrimental effects, particularly for respiratory problems.”
The project will be completed by the end of this year, according to Schwab, and after that must be handed off to the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). Schwab’s project with Mao and Leibensperger runs until the middle of next year.
“The idea is I’m building these systems, but they will essentially be turned over to New York State DEC at the end of the project, and then they can use them either to respond to complaints, or to investigate these much more local concerns that they might have,” he said.