AIR QUALITY – When do we know we have an ORANGE ALERT DAY?

Well, we don’t.  While the more populated areas have a comprehensive Ambient Air Monitoring Network Plan in place, we are still trying to grow one.  What do we have in the Northern Tier Region of Bradford, Sullivan, Susquehanna, Tioga and Wyoming Counties? Well, presently we have a partial monitoring network in place.  The BAQ is attempting to monitor our region, but we are really growing into needing a full Ambient Air Monitoring Network Plan in place.  Please note, we do have some monitors now.  Tioga and Bradford County both have ozone and NOx monitors in place.  A temporary air toxics VOC’s monitor is in Susquehanna County thanks to the proactive stand Wyoming County residents took almost two years ago.  This monitor is scheduled to move to Wyoming County sometime during 2014.  But alas, we have no particulate matter (PM) monitoring device in our entire region.  I’m mentioning this because late spring, we will have the opportunity once again to comment on the upcoming year’s Ambient Air Monitoring Network Plan. We’ve had some unique air quality events in PA within a recent period, most recently Saturday, February 01, 2014.  So, since that grabbed my attention, I thought I’d just take the time and share some AQ information with you. This most recent attention getter began on November 30th, 2013.  It was a very crisp morning slightly above ten degrees, when this caught my eye.

November 30, 2013  8:30 AM  around 10 degrees

November 30, 2013 8:30 AM around 10 degrees

This photo was taken in the Northern Tier Region.  There is no point in identifying the exact location, as it is really hard to tell how far in the distance that unusual mass of air may be.  What I did discover by consulting air quality experts was that I had taken a photo of an air inversion. At night, the cold air sinks.  In the morning, as the sun begins to heat the air  it begins to rise.  Sometimes that air becomes trapped and it creates an inversion.  What was trapped in that interesting inversion?  Well, we do not really know for certain, but this time of year, we would tend to credit particulate matter, or perhaps ozone.  In that direction in the distance there are new sources of pollution, drilling rigs and compressor stations, but whether or not they contributed to this phenomenon is anyone’s best guess lacking any air monitoring. Then the following week, on December 3rd and 4th, 2013, we experienced pea soup all day long around much of the Northern Tier Region.  It was hard to focus; it seemed a little blurry outside.  Those hunting the allusive white tail may recall, it was a foggy day, all day, both days, and warm.  Visibility was affected.  On December 3rd, my travels actually took me through Wyoming, Bradford and Sullivan Counties.  It was a dismal day, but not in Laporte.  At the higher elevation, the sun was shining, it was a beautiful day.  Then, once I returned on my commute, heading east, the lower my elevation, towards Colley and Wilmot townships, the pea soup, foggy day returned.  This was notable since those days, PA DEP actually issued an orange air quality action day, but not for our region, as we have no PM air monitoring device/station. A code orange air quality alert means that air pollution concentrations within the region may become unhealthy for sensitive groups.  Sensitive groups include children, those suffering from asthma, heart disease, lung diseases and the elderly.  The effects of air pollution can be minimized by avoiding strenuous activity or exercise outdoors. This orange air quality action alert day included the Harrisburg area, so I thought I’d just compare airport data I could obtain there and surrounding our region.

Data:  http://www.wunderground.com/history/

LOCATION

DATE

HIGH

LOW

MAX HUMIDITY

ELMIRA

12/3/2013

39

26

100

AVOCA

12/3/2013

50

31

92

WILLIAMSPORT

12/3/2013

46

29

96

MIDDLETOWN

12/3/2013

49

30

89

ELMIRA

12/4/2013

52

32

96

AVOCA

12/4/2013

55

33

100

WILLIAMSPORT

12/4/2013

50

29

100

MIDDLETOWN

12/4/2013

52

31

77

As you will note, very similar data is apparent in the surrounding area.  The only aspect we have missing are very busy interstate highways and perhaps less major point sources. But, what we do have is an active shale gas play with drilling rigs, fracing sites and an ever growing inventory of compressor stations and producing wells coming online literally daily.  So, what can we say?  What can we know?  Pretty much nothing lacking PM monitoring, except, you know what I saw?  Or my child’s asthma was worse today, I wonder why? Another occurrence I noted on December 19th while again, enroute to a meeting, I stopped off in Lemon Township for a few moments, not far from the Susquehanna County line. I was not within hundreds of feet of any industry activity.  However, there was a drilling operation and a compressor station in about a mile, and another couple rigs further in the distance along with a very busy freshwater impoundment and a fracing job.  I noticed diesel in the air, not strong, but enough to get my attention.  What are in diesel emissions?  Particulate matter.  And, that was another similar day.

Data:  http://www.wunderground.com/history/

LOCATION

DATE

HIGH

LOW

MAX HUMIDITY

AVOCA

12/19/2013

41

22

81

So, here we are at our most current event, February 1st 2014.  Once again, DEP has issued an orange air quality action alert, and it did not include our region.  They are unable to include our region, as we are lacking a particulate matter monitoring device/station – so, how do they know?  How do we know? And, again, I did another comparison. 

Data:  http://www.wunderground.com/history/

LOCATION

DATE

HIGH

LOW

MAX HUMIDITY

ELMIRA

2/1/2014

41

23

81

AVOCA

2/1/2014

45

26

75

WILLIAMSPORT

2/1/2014

46

23

81

MIDDLETOWN

2/1/2014

46

24

81

  Again, we a have similar weather pattern. Is it possible, that we may have reasons to be concerned about our family members that are challenged with asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema and COPD? How were they feeling on Friday and Saturday?  Those folks, they are the canaries. They are the ones who will notice subtle or more obvious changes in our air quality regardless if we have monitors or not.  So, what would we experience differently if we had such a network within our region?  Well, for one, these DEP press releases would be on our radio, TV, and in our newspapers.  Also, it is worth taking a quick look to understand the Air Quality Index Key. AQI KeyIdeally, we want to be in the green. An orange status means that the air is unhealthy for sensitive groups.  That would be those respiratory challenged folks I mentioned before.  Why does that matter?  Well, if your child was one of the roughly over 9% of Northern Tier children with asthma, that is a big deal when managing asthma and considering whether or not it is wise to have them involved with outdoor activity. So, this is the data we have available for February 1, 2014.   This  map and chart indicates the AQI as monitored across the state.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Saturday, February 1, 2014

This last map indicates the AQ across the nation.

US February 1, 2014

US February 1, 2014

Regardless of population thresholds, our region’s air quality is changing, and the asthma trend is continuing to indicate that as well.  Later this spring when the emissions inventories and asthma rates are available, it will be an interesting analysis to which we will add to our AIR QUALITY webpage.  Please think about air quality issues, and be ready to prepare a comment late spring to advocate for a complete Ambient Air Monitoring Network that is permanently placed in our region.   We will once again post an ACTION ALERT and HOWTO SHEETS to guide you through the process.

Just as a reminder, the DEP RulemakingEnvironmental Protection Performance Standards at Oil and Gas Well SitesEQB Hearing is in Troy on February 10th.  This hearing is convenient to folks in Bradford, Tioga and Sullivan Counties.  Please plan to share your testimony at the hearing or submit your written comment by March 14th.  Please see our current ACTION ALERT for all the details.

Emily Krafjack, President