County has low particulate levels |

County has low particulate levels

Six months into a two-year air-quality monitoring program in Garfield County, no hard and fast conclusions can be drawn, said county environmental manager Jim Rada.But results from measurements taken for particulates and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) – two air pollutants defined by the Environmental Protection Agency – point to some possible trends.”We haven’t drawn a whole lot of conclusions at this point,” Rada cautioned. Nor can the preliminary data be associated with any risks to human health.The study, which involves collecting air samples from 15 stations around the county, is intended to evaluate the condition of Garfield County’s air quality. It was prompted by public concern about the effects of a burgeoning natural gas development industry in the western half of the county, Rada said.One focus of the study has been particulates known as PM10 – microscopic particles that can effect people with lung or heart disease and contribute to smog and haze.In Garfield County, the majority of PM10 in the air comes from fires, with a small percentage, about 1 percent, from highway vehicles.”PM10 levels are generally low” with the highest levels in urban areas of the county, Rada said.The EPA standard for PM10 is a maximum of 50 micrograms per cubic meter (mg/cm) per month and 150 mg/cm maximum over 24 hours. In rural areas of the county, PM10 averages below 15 mg/cm per day, Rada said.Maximum readings occurred in Rifle, Parachute and New Castle, which were less than 50 percent of the average monthly standard.Two spikes in PM10 readings occurred in July at a station in Silt when there was construction dirt moving nearby, and at New Castle in September when railroad workers were laying new track bedding close to the sampling station, Rada said.Both those readings were “well below the 24 hour standard,” he said.The study has also sampled VOCs – carbon-based chemicals, some of which can be toxic to humans, animals and plants. There are currently no general air quality standards for VOCs.The primary sources of VOCs are natural, Rada said. About 18 percent come from industrial activity and 3 percent from vehicles.Of 89 samples taken by the end of February, 15 VOCs were detected out of 49 possible compounds, Rada said. Among them were the so-called BTEX compounds (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene), which are associated with petroleum products, and occur with the natural gas produced in the county. Of those chemicals, benzene has been shown to cause cancer.The highest amounts of VOCs including benzene were found in samples at stations installed where people complained of strong odors associated with nearby gas production activity.Rada said further analysis is needed to determine the source of the VOCs and whether or not they pose a risk to human health.”We know there is an increase of VOCs with odors (associated with natural gas production),” Rada said. And there needs to be a policy in place to respond to odor complaints to prevent any harm to human health.”We are just at the starting point (of the two-year study),” Rada said. “We need to go on with it” and establish a permanent air quality monitoring program.Commissioner Larry McCown asked if it were possible to determine if air pollutants are coming into the county from neighboring states or countries.”Our neighbor to the southwest, Mexico, has no emissions regulations,” he said. “It’s important to know how much of our pollution is from out of the country before we start to point fingers at industry.”Rada said it is not his approach to point fingers at anyone, “but as industry expands there will understandably have more emissions.”The right approach is to work to reduce those emissions, he added.”We’ll take care of what’s at home first,” said Commissioner John Martin.

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