Monitors will provide insight into air quality

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 11, 2011

By Kathy Chaffin
Center for the Environment
SALISBURY ó The Center for the Environment at Catawba College is working with Davidson College on a summer air-monitoring program to measure ozone and nitrogen oxide 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 work with June McDowell, an air-quality intern with the Center for the Environment, to deliver and collect the tubes with filters used for monitoring.
ěThe volunteers are just literally putting them in,î she said. ěBeyond that, we do all the handling so there will be minimal contact.î
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 researchers targeted residential areas for the program so people will know what the air is like ěoutside their front doors.î
Shelia Armstrong, outreach coordinator for the Centerís 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 Associationís 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 donít know how they rank.
ěBut the fact of the matter is they donít know,î she said. ěTo assume theyíre fine is probably not safe considering the numbers in the other areas.î
The Centerís 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 volunteersí residences May 31 and will be replaced on Tuesday of each week through the end of July.
ěThat should tell us what we want to know,î she said. ěThatís the height of ozone season so we should have a fairly good idea of how the counties compare with each other.î
Results of the study will be released to the public to increase awareness of air quality in the region.
ěI think itís really important for people to understand the air quality where they live,î Hauser said. ěThe more informed people are, the better they can take precautionary methods if necessary. And if their air quality is really great, itís good to know that, too.î