Cache Valley’s air often ranks as nation’s worst, USU professors working to lower pollution levels

Logan was ranked No. 1 for the worst air in the nation on Jan. 8-9, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) website Randy Martin, USU associate research professor for the department of civil and environmental engineering said, “We have the perfect storm of conditions in Cache Valley, almost without exemption. Logan’s particulate matter (PM) 2.5 issues are associated with inversions, but when you have an inversion, plus a lot of ammonium, automobiles and cold temperatures, it forms the PM 2.5.” By Jan. 9, Logan’s air quality tripled the EPA standard of PM 2.5 allowed in the air. “If impressions of precursor gasses increase, and if we have an inversion at the same time, we can see an increase in PM 2.5,” Martin said. “We have seen, when we look at traffic counter data, an increase in PM 2.5, but remember, to get the bad level, we have to have them both mixed together.” Martin said what occurred last week was a sustained inversion. Because we are in a small valley with low temperatures, it condenses the air particles and inversions in Cache Valley tend to last longer. This gives PM 2.5 more time to build to the higher levels. Martin said an inversion is a warming of the air temperature with altitude. When the air is warm at the base of the earth, it filters and disperses. However, when cold air is at the base of the earth and warm air is above it, the cold air inhibits the warm air from filtering out the pollutants in the air. He said he tells his students that another reason why the air is trapped is because we live in a bathtub, with mountains surrounding us on all sides dis-enabling the air to move. The air is like a river, if there is nowhere for it to go, it forms a lake. “PM 2.5 can be made up of a lot of different things,” Martin said. He explained that PM 2.5 can contained of mainly things, but the two main pollutants are caused from the agricultural industry and vehicle emissions to create ammonium nitrate. Cache Valley gets a high source of ammonium from the agricultural industry because of poor waste management, and a high source of nitrate from vehicle emissions.

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