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Breathe Easy: Keep an Eye on the Sky With the County's Air Quality Monitors

Air Quality Monitoring

Particulate matter can have an adverse effect on your health, our mountain views, our community’s quality of life, and more. To better serve Buncombe County residents, the WNC Regional Air Quality Agency (WNCRAQA) secured a $64,000 federal grant to install a new air quality monitoring system providing the County with state of the art equipment and robust air quality reports.

So what is particulate matter? Tiny particles such as dirt or dust that can come from smokestacks, construction, and other “complex reactions of chemicals such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides,” according to the EPA’s website.

The new, high tech equipment was installed last year and is capable of measuring particulate matter roughly 20 times smaller than human hair. Having air pollution monitoring equipment in Buncombe County is important because airborne particulate matter can affect your heart, lungs, overall respiratory system, and cause serious health issues such as:

  • Premature death for those with preexisting heart and lung diseases.
  • Nonfatal heart attacks.
  • Irregular heartbeat.
  • Aggravated asthma.
  • Decreased lung function.
  • Difficulty breathing, coughing fits.

Know the code

So how does this new air quality monitoring system help you avoid these issues? You can significantly reduce your risk of having particulate matter compound existing health conditions or aggravating your ability to breathe by checking our air quality reports and knowing when it’s not advisable to be outside or engage in strenuous outdoor activities. “If you are planning to exercise outdoors and you have asthma or heart disease, it may not be a good idea to spend several hours outside doing manual labor or heavy exercising when air quality condition are poor,” notes WNC Air Quality Program Manager Ashley Featherstone.

Learn more about what air quality conditions mean for your outdoor activity plans at NC DEQ’s website and then make sure to keep an eye on our region’s air quality by checking the AirNow website where you can find forecasts for the current and next days.

Hazy forecast

Did you know that particulate matter can also obstruct our beloved mountain views by causing haze? “Haze is caused when sunlight encounters tiny pollution particles in the air, which reduce the clarity and color of what we see, especially during humid conditions,” notes Featherstone. “In the summertime when the air is humid, tiny pollution particles collide with water vapor molecules causing the particle to expand and scatter light. In the winter time, the fine particles are present in the air, but without the interactions with the humidity, you don’t get that haze formation that we have in the summer,” notes Featherstone. The new air quality monitoring system provides data that helps you preview what haze conditions will look like so you can plan your scenic hike or drive to best optimize long-range views.

The EPA’s website also has resources where you can learn more about the history of haze, how haze reduction improvements have been made in recent years, and more. Also, for a more scientific explanation of haze check out the EPA’s breakdown of particulate matter.

Make sure to stay up-to-date with WNCRAQA daily air quality reports, scientific facts, and more by following us on Facebook and Twitter.