DAQ to monitor ozone levels in Moab
by Laura Haley
Contributing Writer
Jul 31, 2014 | 1845 views | 0 0 comments | 68 68 recommendations | email to a friend | print
In the winter months, it’s not uncommon for an inversion to settle in over the Moab Valley, bringing with it colder temperatures and hazy skies. That fact, along with the rising levels of ATV and UTV use throughout the year, has caused many local residents to become concerned about the quality of the air in Moab.

In response to those concerns, the Utah Division of Air Quality (DAQ) has set up a portable ozone monitoring station near Rotary Park. The monitoring station, installed on July 22, will track and record ozone levels in the Moab Valley for the next six to eight weeks, the DAQ’s Bowen Call said during the July 22 Moab City Council meeting.

Call said the DAQ decided to install the station after receiving phone calls from several area residents, including Moab City Council member Heila Ershadi.

A monitoring station located in the Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands National Park has been collecting air quality data since 1992. However, without a monitoring station in town, Call said it was impossible to know if the levels in town are similar to the levels being seen at Canyonlands.

“What we don’t know is if that data tracks with the levels here in town,” Call said. “If the levels are close to Canyonlands then we can just refer to that data.”

There are two main types of air pollutants that are cause for concern, Call said, explaining that particulates are generally higher in the winter, and ozone is more of a concern in the summer.

Despite the haze that can be common in the winter, Call said that it’s unlikely that Moab has a big enough population base to create enough particulate matter to cause concern. “It may just be a visual disturbance,” he said.

“Ozone is a different animal,” he said, explaining that the levels of measurable ozone increase along with elevation.

Call said that the current ozone standards allow for up to 75 parts per billion over an eight-hour period. While cities on the Wasatch Front regularly straddle that level, the levels from the monitoring station at Canyonlands tend to run around the low 70’s.

Call compared the data from the Canyonlands station to the data provided by a similar monitoring station in Price, Utah. He said the data was almost identical. “That supports the idea that we have a regional ozone level,” he said.

While the levels recorded at the Canyonlands station are routinely below the current standards, Call said the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has talked about decreasing those standards to anywhere between 55 and 70 ppb.

“If they do that, most of Utah will be over those levels,” he said, adding that just the background levels in the state hover between 60 and 65 ppb.

Call said he will also return in the winter to set up a particulate matter monitor that will give the city an idea of how the air quality is in the winter.

“This will give you a sense for where you sit,” he said.

Call suggested keeping track of hazy days on a calendar so that the information can be compared to the data to find out if there is a correlation between the visual quality of the air and the particulate matter that is measured.

The monitoring is only temporary, Call said. Due to a lack of funding, the DAQ is only able to continuously monitor counties with populations over 50,000.

“If you decide you want more monitoring, I suggest you contact your local health department or state officials and try and find funding,” he said.

Ershadi said that the monitoring is being provided free of charge to the city.

“A lot of people have brought up concerns over air quality,” she said. “Hopefully, having these monitors will help put people’s minds at ease. Or they’ll help us realize that there is a problem that we need to work on.”

Call said that even if the numbers are higher than the limits allowed by the EPA, the federal government will not immediately swoop in to start imposing regulations.

“You have to have three years of complete data in order to have any regulatory findings,” he said. “This data will be strictly informational. It will give you an idea of how much effort you need to put in.”

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