Friday, August 10, 2018

Smoke From Western U.S. Wildfires Starting To Show Up In Pennsylvania, East Coast

Smoke from the wildfires burning in California and other Western states is beginning to show up in the upper atmosphere over Pennsylvania and other areas of the East Coast, but it’s too soon to tell whether it will have an impact on our air quality.
Impacts to Pennsylvania’s air quality from wildfires in the Western U.S. and Canada that can actually be measured by air monitors, seen and even smelled have happened before.
Starting in July of 2002 impacts to levels of ozone and fine particulate pollution in Pennsylvania were measured from wildfires burning in eastern Canada that moved south into the Commonwealth.  (DEP Report, page 13)
In the case of the 2002 wildfires, not only were DEP air monitors picking up the pollution from the smoke, but you could actually smell the smoke in the air for several days.
Similar impacts were found from Saskatchewan, Canada wildfires in 2015. (DEP Report, page 14)
When events like this occur, states can request the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to declare an Exceptional Event that has a specific and documented impact on air quality monitoring results over and above what would be expected from weather conditions at the time.  
Air monitoring results are important because if the impact of an Exceptional Event is to cause of violation of the ozone, particulate or another air pollution standard it could have an impact on which areas of the state are declared in nonattainment of that standard.
DEP filed for an Exceptional Event declaration based on the horrific 2016 Fort McMurray wildfire in Canada.  The wildfire burned from May 1 to July 5 when it was brought under control.
DEP’s analysis and modeling demonstrated the Fort McMurray fires caused “abnormally high” ozone and fine particulate concentrations from May 24 to 26, 2016 in Pennsylvania.
At that time, DEP said 43 air quality monitors in the state were affected.
Click Here for a copy of DEP’s report on the impact of the Fort McMurray fires.
With smoke from the Western U.S. wildfires just reaching the East Coast in the upper atmosphere, it’s too soon to tell if the smoke will start mixing lower in the atmosphere to actually start having an impact on Pennsylvania’s air quality.
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