Bad air Friday July 16, 2010, and following days

Previously we commented about how Delaware can and should do a better job of notifying people of unhealthy air.  There is, of course, a certain reluctance on the party of the state to go beyond Federal (EPA) "guidance" in this regard, as it constitutes an admission that the "air quality management" process isn’t fully effective.  And, it calls into question the perpetual campaigns of business interests to further weaken environmental protections.

But the more important issue, of course, is how to clean up the air such that bad air alerts wouldn’t be necessary. This is doable, but not simple, for lots of reasons including:

(1)     The measured pollutants such as ozone and fine particles aren’t all emitted directly.  Rather, "precursor" compounds–all harmful in their own right–are emitted and these cook up into the *measured* pollutants in the atmosphere.  Like many chemical reactions, these "go" faster at higher temperatures, a key reason we have a summer "ozone season;"

(2)     Much pollution originates in Delaware, coming for example from cars and trucks on I 95, and the Markell/Coons oil refinery.  But much comes from out of state, and Delaware is downwind–much of the time–from the Baltimore/Washington metropolitan complex with it’s millions of belching tailpipes and smokestacks.  (Much of Delaware’s pollution, similarly, rides the winds to New Jersey….)  All this means that air pollution can truly be controlled only by uniform, strictly enforced national and international standards.  (And this, of course, is why polluter interests tend to push for environmental regulation at more local levels where it can more easily be corrupted.)

Nationally, after years of backwards movement under the Bush II regime, various incremental improvements are coming out of the US EPA.  These will have long-term benefits but it will take years. 

In Delaware, the picture is mixed.  Yesterday the DNREC announced an agreement with NRG to shut down another coal unit at the infamous Indian River Polluting Station.  This is a good idea and Green Delaware spoke in favor of it at a DNREC hearing in Millsboro some months ago.  (The numbers thrown out by the DNREC seem to come directly from NRG, rather than from DNREC’s own technical staff, and should not be accepted at face value.)  On the other hand, measures such as the reopening of the Markell/Coons refinery, the building of a Route 301 freeway, and the failure to invest significantly in transit, will tend to make air pollution worse.

Delaware could, and should, have a priority program to improve the bad air quality that harms the health and quality of life of so many Delawareans.  Why don’t we?

Have a good weekend.

Alan Muller

State of Delaware Air Quality Forecast for:

Friday, July 16, 2010
(New Castle County including City of Wilmington)
Fine Particles (PM2.5): CODE YELLOW (MODERATE)
(Kent and Sussex Counties including City of Dover)
Fine Particles (PM2.5): CODE YELLOW (MODERATE)
Very warm and humid on Friday.  Ozone concentrations upwind are increasing rapidly this afternoon and this will add to the pollutant load over the state of Friday.  Increasing southerly winds will limit ozone concentrations in southern Delaware but Code Orange levels are expected in northern Delaware.
For the coming weekend, temperatures will remain quite warm with sunny skies.
Winds will shift westerly and place the entire state downwind of the I-95 Corridor and therefore at risk for Code Orange ozone concentrations.  Steady winds will keep PM in the moderate range.

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