Wednesday, January 23, 2019

San Juan air quality gets first checkup

How clean is the air in the San Juan Islands? For the first time, a new temporary monitor will help tell the story. The closest permanent air quality monitor to Friday Harbor is in Anacortes – about 20 miles away. Based on atmospheric modeling, Ecology’s scientific staff believe monitors in Skagit and Whatcom counties and on Vancouver Island offer a reasonable picture of pollution levels in Friday Harbor. Still, some residents have been concerned that nearby monitors may not reflect pollution levels on the islands.

The temporary monitoring system was custom-made to fit inside a small trailer.

To get some definitive answers, our air quality staff recently installed a temporary monitor in Friday Harbor to record local levels of fine particle pollution and get a better idea whether the existing monitoring network is adequately assessing San Juan’s air quality conditions. Operating this temporary monitor during the winter months will give us a baseline on pollution coming from woodstoves, outdoor burning, industry, traffic and marine vessels.

Ecology's Will Wallace calibrates instrumentation.
We placed the monitor in Friday Harbor because, as the county’s largest city, we anticipate that locally generated pollution levels would be the highest there, and that if Friday Harbor meets air quality standards, the rest of the county should too. We plan to leave the monitor in place through May 2019. This study doesn’t include wildfire season because, although wildfire smoke is a concern, it is unpredictable, intermittent and it tends to affect a large geographic area, driving up readings on monitors across Western Washington.

Components of the monitoring system.
Particle pollution is a major public health concern, regardless of whether it comes from wildfires, woodstoves or diesel engines. Fine particle pollution contains microscopic particles that reach deep into the lungs. It can lead to heart and lung problems. People with preexisting health conditions, the very young, the elderly and pregnant women are most at risk from this type of pollution.

Ecology's Jenny Li and Will Wallace discuss the monitoring effort.

There are more than 100 air quality monitors at 80 locations across Washington, operated by both Ecology and local clean air agencies. For more information, and to check the monitor in Friday Harbor, or others around the state in real time, visit our monitoring webpage, https://fortress.wa.gov/ecy/enviwa/.

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