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New project to develop Web tool for analyzing air quality in Ohio River Valley

Internet database could help states make scientifically sound decisions on regulating microscopic PM2.5 particles



A PM2.5 air sampling station at DOE's Laboratory near Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh, PA - For more than three years, the U.S. Department of Energy's National Energy Technology Laboratory has been tracking the flight of unseen airborne particles across the Upper Ohio River Valley.

By analyzing the "fingerprints" of these tiny specks - they are so small that 30 of them barely equal the width of a human hair - researchers are gaining a much better understanding of the airborne concentrations of these particles, where they originate, how they are formed, and most importantly, how best to control them.

Now, a new project selected by the Laboratory will compile the massive amounts of data collected from half a dozen DOE-funded regional air sampling stations into an Internet web-based tool that both researchers and regulators can use to improve their understanding of air quality in the region.

Advanced Technology Systems, Inc., of Pittsburgh, PA, has won an Energy Department competition to develop the comprehensive, computer based system.

Ambient air quality data collected from several ongoing projects in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio will be entered into a common database. A publicly-available, user-friendly, web-based tool then will be created to access, display, analyze and interpret the data.

The $1.92 million project - DOE's share is $1.5 million - will take three years to develop for full public access, but early prototypes of the web tool should become available to environmental professionals within the next couple of years.

The goal is to have a tool that State environmental agencies and others can use to study ambient air quality data not only from their area but also by comparing it to air quality data from surrounding areas. The database underlying the planned analytical tool will be structured to facilitate its integration with the nationwide relational database of air quality now being developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

States are currently under pressure to develop implementation plans to comply with standards for these tiny particulates, called PM 2.5. In many cases, these standards will not only require reducing emissions of solid particles but also the sulfur and nitrogen oxide gases that can react chemically in the atmosphere to form the particles. PM 2.5 particles have been linked statistically to respiratory and cardiopulmonary illnesses.

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