By Ian Lamb
Saturday, July 14, 2012
On the grounds of Albemarle High School, a small metal structure sits sniffing the air for pollutants and recording what it finds. Installed in 2008, the Ambient Air Monitoring System has been measuring the amount of ozone and PM2.5, the term for fine solid and liquid particulates 2.5 micrometers and smaller, in Albemarle County.
The levels of the pollutants are then sent to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to determine whether or not the air in Albemarle meets the Environmental Protection Agency’s federal standards.
Areas that fail to meet the standards are deemed “nonattainment” by the EPA and are required to then formulate a long-term strategy for reducing the amount of pollutants.
However, according to Carolyn Stevens, a DEQ environmental specialist, man-made and industrial pollutants are only one part of the pollution that contributes to nonattainment.
“People instantly think to curtail industry, and there are things we could do for industry, but there are other sources,” said Stevens, referring to strategies employed in nonattainment areas. “There are also environmental and meteorological issues.”
Ozone is a secondary pollutant, which means that it is created when pollutants such as nitrogen oxides (NOx) or volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are produced and met with direct sunlight and high temperatures.
“[Nonattainment] is dependent on things we have no control over,” said Stephen Williams, director of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission. “The hotter, more humid it is, the more likely you are to have a nonattainment event.”