A year-long ambient air quality study by the Olympic Region Clean Air Agency (ORCAA) in Sequim and Port Angeles is set to end April 3.
Three optical particle counters in Port Angeles and one in Sequim atop the Clallam County Fire District 3’s fire station will move to Port Townsend area for an annual saturation study of ORCAA’s six counties going from Clallam to Jefferson to Thurston to Mason to Grays Harbor to Pacific counties by 2018.
From these studies, ORCAA will determine where to place permanent, more precise air monitors.
Fran McNair, ORCAA executive director, said the counters will be calibrated in April and go to Port Townsend in May with three sites to be determined and one at Blue Heron Middle School in Port Townsend where there already is a permanent Nephelometer, a fine particulate air monitoring station.
“It’s a complicated process and the sites must meet specific characteristics,” McNair said.
“You can’t have it too close to a highway, for example, and there are certain restrictions such as it must have an Internet source and people have to agree to it. We had a lot of turn downs in Port Angeles because they didn’t want it. If people have any ideas, they can give them to us.”
The demand for the saturation study in Clallam County was largely driven by concerns regarding the biomass-burning cogeneration plant at Nippon Paper Industries in Port Angeles.
Previously, ORCAA officials said the study could provide some data about air quality before and after it opened. However, McNair said the study only partly involves biomass.
“The biggest problem is wood stoves and outdoor burning,” she said.
“We’re looking at what comes from cars, ships and wood stoves. The key for us is make sure the air people breathe is clean.”
Prior to the temporary monitors being placed, citizens from across the county urged entities like the City of Sequim for more air monitoring and/or to stop the biomass plant from opening.
Bob Sextro, a Sequim resident, was a part of forming the now disbanded Clallam County Clear Air Coalition in 2012 and he recently spoke to the Sequim City Council again about encouraging ORCAA to host a meeting on the results of the saturation study in the county.
He said ORCAA planned to only present the results to its board of directors but a few days after he approached the council he and other concerned citizens received notification of a proposed meeting.
McNair said they plan to hold a meeting about the results at the end of May or early June in Sequim or Port Angeles with Odelle Hadley, ORCAA’s senior air monitoring specialist, likely to present the information.
Data from the four monitors is posted monthly on ORCAA’s website, which Sextro said he’s been checking. He let them know about a spike in Sequim that appeared higher than Port Angeles’ sites in May, which ORCAA officials told him was likely due to highway construction crews burning slash.
Looking at the data, Sequim mostly stayed lower than Port Angeles’ sites except for in portions of May and July-October.
Three months into the study, McNair told members of the Sequim-Dungeness Valley Chamber of Commerce that Sequim’s air was healthy but it was too soon for anything conclusive since air quality dips in the winter.
Sextro said he doesn’t have enough information as of yet to make any determinations about the study since its ended.
“What we’re hoping is scientists at ORCAA can give us analysis of what some of those episodes might be,” he said.
Hadley said she plans to have a recommendation by the informational meeting for the permanent monitor whether to move it or keep it atop Stevens Middle School. She plans to share more specific data on the saturation study in Sequim and Port Angeles, too.
“Typically (Sequim is) lower than what we see in Port Angeles. They tend to go up and down at the same points,” she said. “They are both responding to a similar air base and meteorological patterns and behaviors. There’s just less of it (particles) in Sequim. It is a little early but I did see some high points over the summer. I’m still investigating that.”
As of now, Clallam County has two permanent monitors (in Port Angeles and Cheeka Peak in Neah Bay) while ORCAA’s other counties each have one, McNair said.
Clallam County residents have expressed an interest in monitors for ultrafine particulates but McNair said they don’t have federal standards for those yet.
“People think about Nippon and Port Townsend Paper but don’t think about what they’re doing in their own home,” she said.
For more information on Clallam County’s study, go to orcaa.org, “Your Air,” “Saturation Studies,” and “Clallam County” or simply visit orcaa.org/air/saturation-studies/clallam-county.