published Thursday, July 7th, 2011

Air pollution explodes, but Chattanooga gets passing grade

Marcos Espinoza, general manager of Sugar's Ribs, checks light bulbs on the patio at the restaurant on the side of Missionary Ridge.
Marcos Espinoza, general manager of Sugar's Ribs, checks light bulbs on the patio at the restaurant on the side of Missionary Ridge.
Photo by Tim Barber.
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The fireworks may have been pretty over the long Fourth of July weekend, but if you’ve nursed a cough and the sniffles since the big bangs, you might just think of it as celebration hangover.

Weather blogs in Seattle, Utah, Nevada, California, Nebraska, Wisconsin and even China in this and previous years have linked fireworks displays with spikes in air pollution.

Wisconsin has even warned residents of potential health problems from the smoky and smoggy air after the pyrotechnic displays. And the Cliff Mass Weather Blog in Seattle, written by University of Washington professor and climatologist Cliff Mass, calls the bad air effect “FIAP — Fireworks Induced Air Pollution.”

The Cliff Mass blog demonstrated the impact of fireworks’ smoke and blast particles with five-day air trends from seven cities in the Puget Sound area. All five, charted by the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, showed a spike into moderate to unhealthy levels of particulate matter in the afternoon hours of July 4.

Locally, officials with the Chattanooga Air Pollution Control Bureau said they can’t say yet if fireworks clouded air monitors as much as they clouded the vistas.

“I don’t have any readings for Sunday or Monday. There was an instrument malfunction,” said Amber McCorvie Boles, spokeswoman for the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Air Pollution Control Bureau.

“The last thing I have was for Saturday, and it [the readings] peaked ... in moderate range,” she said. “It is more likely that the hot, humid weather and higher traffic counts on the interstate would have a greater impact.”

But even if the monitors did find harmful levels of fine particulate — dust, soot or smoke containing microscopic solids or liquid droplets that can get deep into the lungs — the city would get a pass from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which monitors air quality nationwide.

EPA spokeswoman Dawn Harris-Young said the agency recognizes that there may be air quality impacts associated with fireworks displays, but cities are given a pass for “exceptional events” so the bad air won’t count against a region’s effort to maintain federal air quality control standards.

“One of the criteria for exclusion is that the fireworks display must be linked to a cultural celebration, such as July Fourth, and not just be someone setting off fireworks in a neighborhood,” she said.

Particle pollution and ground ozone — which comes primarily from vehicle and power plant emissions — contribute to smog.

Tisha Calabrese-Benton, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, said Chattanooga this year has had three ozone readings in excess of the standard but no fine particulate matter excesses.

Last year, there were seven ozone readings that exceeded the standard, three of them occurring through July 5. There were no fine particulate excesses last year, she said.

about Pam Sohn...

Pam Sohn has been reporting or editing Chattanooga news for 25 years. A Walden’s Ridge native, she began her journalism career with a 10-year stint at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. She came to the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 1999 after working at the Chattanooga Times for 14 years. She has been a city editor, Sunday editor, wire editor, projects team leader and assistant lifestyle editor. As a reporter, she also has covered the police, ...

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NoMyth said...

Fireworks, like smoking, should be banned in public spaces and urban areas due to their negative impact on air quality and health. Industries could not even obtain a permit to explode materials in populated areas, why should cities and towns be allowed to do so? Evolve America! It can't be 1950 forever.

July 7, 2011 at 1:01 a.m.
dave said...

Great, a couple of times a year we get to blow off a little steam and now some killjoys want to get rid of that too.

July 7, 2011 at 7:34 a.m.
dao1980 said...

Is the air pollution methane?.. or hydrogen?... how did it explode?

July 7, 2011 at 12:57 p.m.
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