Kingston Air Quality Initiative at Bard College Reports After Three Years of Monitoring
KAQI began in January 2020 as a partnership between Bard’s Community Sciences Lab and the City of Kingston Conservation Advisory Council’s Air Quality Subcommittee. Since then, Kingston residents and Bard College students, staff, and faculty have facilitated both indoor and outdoor air quality monitoring projects throughout Ulster County. Standing as the first air quality study of its kind in Kingston, KAQI’s monitoring efforts focus on a regional assessment of air pollution as measured from the roof of the Andy Murphy Neighborhood Center on Broadway in Kingston.
KAQI’s main monitoring efforts focus on a regional assessment of air pollution from fine particulate matter (PM2.5), made up of microscopic particles that are the products of burning fuel, and is released into the air through exhausts from oil burners, gas burners, automobiles, cooking, grilling, and both indoor and outdoor wood burning. PM 2.5 particles are so tiny, they stay suspended in the air for long periods of time, allowing them to travel long distances before depositing. When these particles are inhaled, they can enter the bloodstream through the lungs, creating or exacerbating health issues. The World Health Organization (WHO) states that “small particulate pollution has health impacts even at very low concentrations – indeed no threshold has been identified below which no damage to health is observed.”
After 3 years of monitoring in Kingston, air quality trends associated with daily activities are observable. The findings show that air pollution in the city is variable and appears to have a seasonal context—higher levels of pollution are shown during colder months (associated with fuel burning), and lower levels are generally seen in spring and summer. The difference between levels seen during 2020—when COVID shut down many activities and resulted in a decrease in vehicles on the road—and pollution levels detected in years since is also significant.
Two important measures of PM2.5 air quality are the annual mean standard and the 24-hour average standard. Kingston’s PM2.5 air quality met the annual standards of both the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the WHO, although it came close to exceeding the latter. For the 24-hour standard, air quality met the EPA’s but exceeded the WHO’s.
As of January, 2023, a revision was proposed to change the EPA's primary public health-based annual standard from its current level of 12.0 micrograms per meter squared to the range of 9.0-10.0 micrograms per meter squared. This revision would lean closer toward, but not come close to meeting, the WHO's PM 2.5 annual standard of 5 micrograms per meter squared. Based on the EPA annual mean calculations, these values come close to exceeding the WHO annual standard.
One factor associated with instances of air quality breaching the WHO’s 24-hour threshold is the development of atmospheric inversions, which occur when the temperature of the atmosphere increases instead of decreases with altitude and surface level air parcels are unable to rise up, trapping any present air pollution at ground level. Being in the Hudson Valley, Kingston is more susceptible to inversion events as the air is blocked from all directions. It's possible that, if Kingston residents were aware of when these events are occurring, we could start making different decisions about woodburning and car use during these times to make our air cleaner for all. Another potential factor may be pollutants from smoke carried from wildfires on the West Coast.
More detail about KAQI’s findings can be found at the Center for Environmental Sciences and Humanities website: https://cesh.bard.edu/kingston-air-quality-initiative-kaqi/
“While our annual averages meet EPA standards, as many residents of Kingston and the surrounding areas know, air quality at ground level can vary widely from neighborhood to neighborhood,” said Lorraine Farina, co-founder of KAQI and the Hudson Valley Air Quality Coalition, and former Kingston CAC air quality sub-committee chair. “The average adult takes in 1000 breaths per hour, and exposures to dangerous fine particulate matter very much depend on whether wood is being burned nearby, as burning wood is dirtier and more polluting than burning oil, gas, or coal. There is no safe level of exposure to PM 2.5, so the expanding neighborhood-level monitoring efforts of the Bard Community Science Lab will help residents understand the actual air quality right where they are breathing, so we can all make choices that benefit both our health and that of the planet.”
“I want to thank Bard and the Community Sciences Lab for allowing Kingston to participate in this initiative,” said Steve Noble, the mayor of Kingston. “I am pleased to see that our air quality is superior to many of the places around us, but it’s a profound reminder that our daily activities do impact our health, and the health of our environment. We appreciate Bard’s investment in monitoring Kingston’s air, as it has been an invaluable learning tool. Together with Kingston’s Conservation Advisory Council, we will continue to monitor local air quality alerts, and will continue to work together with leaders in our region on policy and initiatives for cleaner air.”
Dr. Eli Dueker, co-director of the Bard Center for Environmental Sciences and Humanities, added, “Clean air is something we often take for granted in the Hudson Valley. Our findings show that meeting annual EPA standards (particularly current standards) is one thing, but on a day-to-day basis, our air quality is sometimes degraded and can be unhealthy. After all, we are not breathing on an average yearly basis—we are breathing on a second-by-second basis. We can make decisions as a community to keep our own air clean – for example, we could reduce or even stop our wood-burning in city limits (particularly on days with atmospheric inversions), reduce our car use, and make our homes more energy efficient.”
The Center for Environmental Sciences and Humanities at Bard College, in collaboration with KAQI, has been working on a handful of air quality related projects centralized around community needs and concerns. These include:
- Developing a publicly-accessible atmospheric inversion monitoring system for the Kingston area.
- Neighborhood-level air quality monitoring, through the fast-developing Hudson Valley Library Air Quality Network. Using outdoor real-time air quality monitoring devices stationed at public libraries, air quality data is free and accessible online. We are always looking for new locations throughout the Hudson Valley to add to the network and provide more localized data for residents. If any libraries are interested, please reach out to [email protected].
- In partnership with SUNY-Albany, conducting indoor and outdoor air quality monitoring in homes with woodsmoke, mold and structurally-related air quality challenges.
For more information or ways to get involved, please visit https://kingston-ny.gov/airquality or https://cesh.bard.edu/kingston-air-quality-initiative-kaqi/.
Post Date: 06-06-2023