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Heartland 101 June 2016: Scientific Stations Monitor the Air You Breathe

photo_heartland_101_201606Air quality is considered the most important topic to the local community, according to a 2015 Life in the Heartland survey. As such, residents are keen to know how the region’s air quality is monitored.

Monitoring Air Quality

Local organization Fort Air Partnership monitors and collects air quality data 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This is done using a combination of continuous monitoring stations and passive monitors throughout the Heartland and surrounding area.

Passive Air Monitoring

Passive samplers are a simple, inexpensive way of tracking concentration levels on a monthly basis. The monitors don’t require power because they absorb air rather than draw air in. They look like a white plastic cylinder shaped dome about the size of a soccer ball on top of a waist-high post.

Fifty-seven passive monitors are placed throughout the Fort Air Partnership airshed. They measure concentrations of sulphur dioxide and hydrogen sulphide. Samples are collected and analyzed each month to determine trends over time.

Continuous Air Monitoring

Nine continuous monitoring stations measure different types of substances around the clock and report results in near real time. These stations are comprised of complex sets of instruments and equipment housed in skid-shack trailers. Each station measures specific substances, which are reported to provincial and federal governments and available to the public at www.fortair.org. They also measure atmospheric conditions such as temperature, wind speed, and barometric pressure.

Data from five of the stations (Bruderheim, Fort Saskatchewan, Gibbons, Lamont County and Elk Island National Park) are used by the Government of Alberta to calculate the Air Quality Health Index which can be found at www.fortair.org. This index helps people understand what the local outside air quality means to health using a scale from 1 to 10: the lower the number, the lower the health risk.

Grand Opening of New Continuous Monitoring Station in Gibbons

The newest continuous monitoring station began operating in February in Gibbons. It adds a valuable set of data for tracking and reporting air quality in the Heartland. A public grand opening will be held on Thursday, June 16 at the station, located behind the Gibbons Town Office. A short ceremony and ribbon cutting is scheduled at 3 pm. The public is welcome to tour the station during the event.

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