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Project to give equal access to air quality information

Published: Sep. 16, 2021 at 10:15 PM PDT
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RENO, Nev. (KOLO) - A KOLO 8 News Now investigation reveals your access to reliable air quality reports during wildfire season depends on where you live.

The majority of air quality monitors are in the most populated areas on the west side of northern Nevada. But areas like Fallon and Elko only have a few, leaving our viewers in these communities to guess about the best actions to take on a smoke-filled day to protect their lungs.

A team of scientists from the Desert Research Institute and the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection recently secured a $550,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to launch a two year project.

The goal is to give all northern Nevadans easy access to real-time information.

Dr. Kristin VanderMolen PhD is leading DRI’s portion of the project. She says she learned about air quality monitoring disparities from rural county leaders and the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection.

From there, the team worked on and secured funding for the project first launched only weeks ago.

”Decision makers and local public in those counties don’t have local level air quality data available to them,” Dr. VanderMolen said.

The team ordered ten different portable air quality monitors. They will each be tested in a lab.

Dr. Yeongkwon Son PhD is an assistant research professor. His job is to ignite the same materials burning in the Caldor and Dixie Fires in a DRI chamber to test the reliability of the 10 air quality monitors.

The most important measurement during wildfire season is particulate matter.

The goal is to measure particulate matter from .1 micrometers to 10 micrometers. ”It’s 10 times smaller than human hair,” Dr. Son said.

Outside wildfire season, the monitors will measure ozone and volatile organic compounds not good for the human body.

Once the top air quality monitors are selected in the lab they will be placed in rural areas for testing.

The 2022 fire season will be a test run and then the top performing devices from this phase of the project will be recommended to rural county leaders in Elko, Storey, and Pershing counties empowering even more Nevadans with knowledge to protect their bodies when the air quality drops.

The Nevada Division of Environmental Protection is working on a web platform to make the air quality information available to the public. There is also talk of including this information once available on AirNow.gov.

It could be ready for your online access by the 2022 fire season.

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