ORCAA recommends four air-quality monitors

By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News

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SEQUIM — Fran McNair, the director of the Olympic Region Clean Air Agency, is recommending that four temporary air-quality monitors be purchased so that they can be placed in counties, including Clallam and Jefferson, to facilitate a study of air quality.

If approved, the four monitors would be installed in Clallam County in January: three in Port Angeles and one in Sequim.

The following year, in 2014, some or all of the monitors would be placed in Port Townsend, McNair said.

Purchase of the monitors, which will measure particulates smaller than the 2.5-micron threshold already mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency, will be discussed at the Olympic Region Clean Air Agency — or ORCAA — board of directors meeting at
5 p.m. Oct. 15 at the Sequim Transit Center, 190 W. Cedar St., McNair said.

“The focus of the meeting is ambient air-quality monitoring,” she said last week.

The monitors would be used for “saturation studies” in six counties, including Clallam and Jefferson, in which ORCAA regulates air quality.

Environmental groups have been fighting the maximum 20-megawatt, $71 million biomass cogeneration expansion project being built in Port Angeles by Nippon Industries USA, which will burn wood waste to create electricity, and a similar $55 million, 24-megawatt biomass-facility expansion project at Port Townsend Paper.

McNair said the monitors are meant to address concerns expressed by area residents about toxin-laden ultrafine particulates that fall under the EPA threshold.

The monitors would measure the size of particulates that are between 0.3 and 10 microns, McNair said.

“We want to look at air quality and the particulates that they are potentially breathing in,” she said.

“We want to make sure it’s good, clean air,” she said.

The board is expected to make a decision on buying the monitors at its regular board meeting in Olympia on Nov. 14, McNair said, adding funding for the $4,000 devices would come from agency reserves.

“I hope the board supports us, and I think they will,” McNair said.

Jefferson County Commissioner Phil Johnson, who chairs the ORCAA board, favors the purchase, he said Friday.

“I’m in favor of ambient air monitoring,” he said.

“I think it’s important to get a baseline, and we have the reserves set aside for it,” Johnson said.

“At this point, I would support it.”

All of the temporary monitors would be in place for about six to nine months.

One of the Port Angeles monitors would be at an existing permanent air quality station at Stevens Middle School that now uses the 2.5-micron threshold, while two others would be placed at as-yet unchosen locations in the city.

The Sequim monitor’s location has not been chosen.

One monitor would be placed in Port Townsend at the existing station at Blue Heron Middle School and up to three monitors placed elsewhere in the city, McNair said Friday.

The goal is to place the temporary monitors in all six counties regulated by ORCAA as part of a series of “saturation studies” of those areas, McNair said.

The intention is to place the monitors near places that are generating pollution, said ORCAA Senior Air Monitoring Specialist Odelle Hadley.

“We’re really focusing on where the air quality is most likely to be impaired and where are people exposed to that,” Hadley said, adding the monitors will not be able to differentiate the source of the particulates.

But data from the monitors will help determine the adequacy of the current monitoring program and “are we in the right place to capture air quality in the area,” Hadley said.

Residents in Port Angeles, Sequim and Port Townsend have asked for additional permanent air quality stations to measure particulates generated by Nippon and Port Townsend Paper.

Gretchen Brewer of PT Airwatchers called placement of a temporary monitor in Port Townsend “a positive step.”

“I would really like to encourage us to explore mutual ways to make more permanent monitors happen sooner, but I do think this is a positive step, and I encourage them to move forward,” she said.

Bob Lynette of Carlsborg, co-chair of the North Olympic Group of the Sierra Club, said permanent air quality monitoring stations need to be installed that measure down to .01 microns and called the temporary monitors “a Band-Aid.”

The temporary monitors are “probably better than nothing, but the problem is it doesn’t measure the ultrafines,” he said.

“They don’t accurately measure the small stuff,” he said.

“This is a Band-Aid — better than nothing, but we should all recognize that this is not a long-range plan.”

Nippon mill manager Harold Norlund said the company already monitors its equipment.

“We are confident our equipment will meet the permit and the law’s requirements,” he said.

“According to [the Department of] Ecology work over a multitude of years, the majority of particulates that was picked up [by air quality monitors] was things like forest fires and forest-slash burning.”

Lynette has asked ORCAA to address seven issues regarding air emissions at the Oct. 15 meeting, including a summary of health implications related to biomass boilers and how pollutants from Nippon and Port Townsend Paper will be distinguished from fireplace emissions.

Of those issues, McNair said the agency would address “as many as we can” at the meeting.

She added that ORCAA does not have a time limit on its review of a cooling tower application for Nippon’s biomass cogeneration plant.

A 30-day public comment period will follow the completion of that review.

Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at paul.gottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: October 06. 2012 5:32PM
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