Dirty air measured in east-central Iowa, expected to blow out with cold front

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From Radio Iowa – December 4, 2013 By

People in east-central Iowa – including Clinton County – woke up to foggy conditions Tuesday, and not only was there a lot of moisture in the air, but the Iowa Department of Natural Resources says the air was dirty too. DNR environmental specialist, Chris Maiers, says air monitors registered high levels of what’s called “particle pollution” in several cities.

“They’ve risen about the EPA’s health threshold, which is 35 micrograms per cubic meter. And they’ve been above that for about a day or so now,” Maiers explains. Some of the readings were 41.3 in Cedar Rapids, 39.9 and 42.1 at monitors in Clinton, 45.2 and 47.7 in Davenport,  41.4 in Iowa City, 46.1 in Muscatine and 41.6 in Waterloo.

Maiers says the problem kind of parked over those cities. “The way the weather forecast has evolved, it’s not allowing the atmosphere to kind of vent itself,” Maiers explains. “And when that happens you get a lot of these pollutants stuck near the surface, and that’s typically when we see these problems arise.”  The dingy air extended beyond Iowa into Illinois. “This is what we would call a regional exceedence. Which basically means that a lot of areas a seeing an issue,” Maiers says. “It contrasts with something that would be from a point source coming out of a smoke stack or something like that.”

The pollution is generated here by cars and factories, but it is also blown in from other states. “It’s really difficult to point the finger at one aspect of it and say ‘this is the cause,’ when it is probably a lot of little things adding up,” Maiers says. He says there are usually a handful of these type of regional events throughout the year in Iowa, and in the past year it was a little below that.

The stale air is not a problem for most people. “It’s going to affect mainly those who are categorized in the sensitive group — asthmatics, people who have had some sort of chronic lung condition, the elderly, small children,” Maiers explains. A new air mass is blowing into the state today, and while it is pushing out the warm air, Maiers says it is also pushing out the pollutants. “That’ll scour everything out in addition to making things quite a bit colder,” he says.

You can see the reports from the state air monitors as the State Hygienic Laboratory’s website at: www.shl.uiowa.edu/env/ambient/realtime.xml.

To get a larger view of the issue, go to the EPA’s national air quality map at: www.airnow.gov.