Let’s Talk Turkey: Air Quality Monitoring in Jackson

By Phoebe Coburn

Did you know you can access local real-time air quality information? The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality’s Air Quality Division placed a mobile air quality monitoring station on the National Elk Refuge last summer. It’s one of three mobile monitoring sites across the state and will be here until August 2019. Click here to view real-time air quality data and download past data.

 Robb removing bird droppings from the rain gauge.

Robb removing bird droppings from the rain gauge.

Robb Sgroi, the Land Resources Specialist for Teton Conservation District, checks on the mobile monitoring station monthly. He runs tests and checks instruments to make sure everything is working properly. Here he is completing one of his more technical tasks – removing bird droppings from the rain gauge.

In addition to measuring standard meteorological parameters like wind speed and direction, temperature, precipitation, and humidity, the mobile station also measures ozone, oxides of nitrogen, sulfur dioxide, hydrocarbons, and particulate matter. Those parameters include “criteria air pollutants,” which were identified by the Clean Air Act of 1970 as common air pollutants of concern.

 Robb checking on the instruments at the mobile air quality monitoring station.

Robb checking on the instruments at the mobile air quality monitoring station.

Ozone is created when oxygen and other gases react in the presence of sunlight. Ozone can be good or bad depending on where it is in the atmosphere. Here at ground level, ozone, a.k.a. “smog”, can damage human health and the environment. Nitrogen dioxide contributes to the formation of ozone at ground level. It’s brownish in color comes from cars and other things that burn fuel at high temperatures. Nitrogen dioxide can irritate our lungs and contribute to the formation acid rain. Sulfur dioxide is a colorless gas emitted into the atmosphere mainly from industrial sources like coal factories, oil refineries, steel mills, and pulp and paper mills. Hydrocarbons are found in natural gas and crude oil and are also not great to breath. Lastly, Particulate Matter, or PM, includes all sorts of particles in the air like dirt, dust, pollen, smoke, and liquid droplets. Some PM is blown into the atmosphere naturally by the wind, while other PM is formed by chemical reactions. The station on the National Elk Refuge measures two different sizes of PM – coarse particles up to 10 µm (that’s the unit for a micrometer – one millionth of a meter!) and fine particles up to 2.5 µm. 

The station hasn’t been around long enough for us to draw any conclusions about air quality in Jackson, but nonetheless it’s interesting to see what we’re breathing at any given moment. As I write this on a crisp morning before Thanksgiving, the criteria pollutants that our mobile monitoring station tests for are below the EPA’s “not to exceed” standard. I feel thankful to not only be breathing clean air, but also to have access to air quality data right at my fingertips.

If you have questions about the mobile monitoring station or about air quality in Wyoming, contact Daniel Sharon, the Air Quality Monitoring Project Manager for the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality at daniel.sharon [at] wyo.gov or (307) 777- 7104.