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Center for Environment Partners with Davidson College on Air Monitoring Program

06/05/11 by Kathy Chaffin

The Center for the Environment at Catawba College is partnering with Davidson College on a summer air monitoring program to measure ozone and nitrogen oxide (NOx) levels in seven Piedmont counties.
Dr. Cindy Hauser, associate professor of chemistry at Davidson, will analyze the data collected for cross comparison. Two of her students will be working with June McDowell, an air quality intern with the Center for the Environment, to deliver and collect the tubes with filters used for monitoring.
“The volunteers are just literally putting them in,” she said. “Beyond that, we do all the handling so there will be minimal contact.”
Volunteers in residential areas of Rowan, Cabarrus, Mecklenburg, Iredell, Gaston and Davidson counties in North Carolina and York County in South Carolina have been trained on using the monitors. Hauser said they targeted residential areas for the program so people will know what the air is like “outside their front doors.”
Shelia Armstrong, outreach coordinator for the Center’s Campaign for Clean Air, said the results of the monitoring program will provide a broader perspective on regional air quality and assist staff in educating the public about it.
Rowan and Mecklenburg are the only counties in the program currently monitored by the Environmental Protection Agency. The American Lung Association’s 2011 State of the Air Report ranked Rowan as the 17th worst county in the nation for ozone pollution of counties with monitor collecting data. Mecklenburg tied with two other counties for the 21st place ranking.
The Charlotte-Gastonia-Salisbury region ranked 10th in the nation for having the worst ozone levels and was the only region in the East to make the top 10.
Hauser said residents of surrounding counties may think their air quality is fine because they don’t know how they rank. “But the fact of the matter is they don’t know,” she said. “To assume they’re fine is probably not safe considering the numbers in the other areas.”
The Center’s Campaign staff met recently with Hauser and one of her students to discuss collector placement, volunteer recruitment, ozone and NOx analysis procedures and placement. A training class for Campaign staff was also held at Davidson.
Armstrong said the start of the summer monitoring program was targeted to kick off the ozone season, which has already resulted in warnings for high-risk populations.
The first monitors were placed at volunteers’ residences on Tuesday, May 31, and will be replaced the following Tuesday of each week through the end of July. “That should tell us what we want to know,” she said. “That’s the height of ozone season so we should have a fairly good idea of how the counties compare with each other.”
Results of the study will be released to the public to increase awareness of air quality in the region.
 “I think it’s really important for people to understand the air quality where they live,” Hauser said. “The more informed people are, the better they can take precautionary methods if necessary. And if their air quality is really great, it’s good to know that, too.”
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The Center for the Environment at Catawba College was founded in 1996 to provide education and outreach centered on prevalent environmental challenges and to foster community-oriented sustainable solutions that can serve as a model for programs throughout the country. For more information, visit www.centerfortheenvironment.org or www.campaignforcleanair.org.

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