Air pollution in New York area linked to fires thousands of miles away

Original article at https://seas.yale.edu/news-events/news/air-pollution-new-york-area-linked-fires-hundreds-miles-away

A new study shows that air pollutants from the smoke of fires from as far as Canada and the southeastern U.S. traveled hundreds of miles and several days to reach Connecticut and New York City, where it caused significant increases in pollution concentrations.

For the study, published Jan. 21 in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, researchers in the lab of Drew Gentner, associate professor of chemical & environmental engineering, monitored the air quality at the Yale Coastal Field Station in Guilford, CT and four other sites in the New York metropolitan area. In August of 2018, they observed two spikes in the presence of air pollutants – both coinciding with New York-area air quality advisories for ozone. The pollutants were the kind found in the smoke of wildfires and controlled agricultural burning. Using three types of evidence – data from the observation sites, smoke maps from satellite imagery, and backtracking 3-D models of air parcels (both the maps and models were produced by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) – the researchers traced the pollutants’ origin in the first event to fires on the western coast of Canada, and in the second event to the southeastern U.S.

Biomass burning, which occurs on a large scale during wildfires and some controlled burns, is a major source of air pollutants that impact air quality, human health, and climate. These events release numerous gases into the atmosphere and produce particulate matter (PM), including black carbon (BC) and other primary organic aerosols (POA) with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers. Known as PM2.5, it has been shown to have particularly serious health effects when inhaled.

While more reactive components are often chemically-transformed closer to their place of origin, PM2.5 tends to last longer. In the case of this study, that allowed much of it to travel from the fires to the monitoring sites – a period ranging from a few days to about a week.

“Given the sensitivity of people to the health effects emerging from exposure to PM2.5, this is certainly something that needs to be considered as policy-makers put together long-term air quality management plans,” Gentner said.

The impacts of wildfire smoke will likely become increasingly important in the coming years.

“When people are making predictions about climate change, they’re predicting increases in wildfires, so this sort of pollution is likely going to become more common,” said lead author Haley Rogers ‘19, who was an undergraduate student when the study was conducted. “So when people are planning for air pollution and health impacts, you can’t just address local sources.”

Although the levels of the PM2.5 decreased over time and distance, co-author Jenna Ditto, a graduate student in Gentner’s lab, noted that awareness of its presence in the atmosphere is critical to public health.

“Studies indicate that there are no safe levels of PM2.5, so typically, any level of it is worth taking a look at,” she said.

Hot off the press: A deeper molecular look at organic aerosol functional groups via MS/MS reveals a diverse, dynamic atmosphere

Check out Jenna’s third paper in ES&T Letters “Nontargeted Tandem Mass Spectrometry Analysis Reveals Diversity and Variability in Aerosol Functional Groups across Multiple Sites, Seasons, and Times of Day” for a new perspective on the molecular-level functionality of organic aerosols. For those that don’t have institutional subscriptions, free copies can be obtained via: https://pubs.acs.org/articlesonrequest/AOR-BudXUC9jt8AWXUakInJf

Our first LISTOS paper and the LISTOS data archive are live!

Congratulations to Haley Rogers on her paper that was just accepted to Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, which focuses on the impact of long-range transport of biomass burning emissions on New York City-area air quality, and studies two biomass burning pollution events observed during LISTOS (Long Island Sound Tropospheric Ozone Study) 2018! Check out Haley’s paper here.

The entire LISTOS  2018 data archive is live! During LISTOS 2018, the Gentner Lab collected measurements of a variety of pollutants with reference instrumentation, as well as measurements of trace gas and particle phase compounds for high resolution mass spectrometry analysis at the Yale Coastal Field Station.

Gentner lab data (ozone, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, PM2.5, black carbon, local meteorology) are publicly available on the LISTOS archive. Data posted are from summer 2018-summer 2019, and we are actively collecting more data throughout 2019.

To learn more about the LISTOS campaign in general and to check out data from the many participating research groups, click here!

New Air Pollution Research Station at the Yale Coastal Field Station

Last summer, we set up an air quality monitoring station at the Yale Coastal Field Station in Guilford, CT. It is well established that much of Connecticut suffers from poor air quality due to transport of air pollution from New York City (and other seaboard states south of NYC). This results from the transport of reactive organic chemicals emitted south of Connecticut that chemically transform as air masses blow up along the coast. This includes primary pollutants emitted directly from sources (e.g. carbon monoxide, black carbon, sulfur dioxide, from any source that burns fuel, like cars or power plants). More importantly, it includes secondary pollutants, formed following chemical transformations of gas-phase organic compounds in the atmosphere: principally ozone and secondary organic aerosol (SOA)—colloquially known as photochemical smog. Ozone and SOA both have multifaceted health effects on cardiovascular, pulmonary, and cognitive function. Many of these pollutants also have important impacts on the environment, including the earth’s climate.

In our trailer, we are measuring several pollutants, some of which are regulated by the U.S. EPA due to their detrimental effects on human health and the environment, including:

  • Ozone*
  • Carbon dioxide
  • Carbon monoxide*
  • Sulfur dioxide*
  • Nitrogen oxides*
  • Black carbon
  • PM2.5.*  (particulate matter with a diameter less than 2.5 microns)
  • Gas and particle-phase organic compounds
  • We are also measuring temperature, relative humidity, wind speed, and wind direction with the weather station you see on the mast outside the trailer

*= National Ambient Air Quality Standards set by the U.S. EPA (https://www.epa.gov/criteria-air-pollutants/naaqs-table)

We aim to track these changes in the concentrations of these primary and secondary pollutants, to better understand where they come from, what they are are made of (particularly for low concentration gas-phase and particle-phase organic compounds), and how they may impact human health and/or our environment.

This study represents a collaborative effort between Yale’s School of Engineering & Applied Science, The Peabody Museum, and the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies.

 

The increasing influence of non-combustion sources on urban air quality via gas-phase organic compound emissions

Check out our paper showing that the future of urban air quality requires consideration of non-combustion emissions, a highly diverse mix of sources like consumer/commercial products and materials. It published as a highlight paper in ACP (https://www.atmos-chem-phys.net/18/5391/2018/)(ACPD in August 2017). See more at Yale News: https://seas.yale.edu/news-events/news/study-shows-need-broaden-focus-sources-air-pollution.

For VOCs and less-volatile gas-phase organics, it shows that a more holistic approach that also considers non-combustion emissions is warranted moving forward. The open access paper can be directly downloaded at: https://www.atmos-chem-phys.net/18/5391/2018/acp-18-5391-2018.pdf

Congrats Peeyush!