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Studying Air Pollution in Iowa

Posted on February 20th, 2017
Charles Stanier CLEA4R project monitors air pollution in Iowa using Airbeam handheld tracking sensors.

Charles Stanier CLEA4R project monitors air pollution in Iowa using Airbeam handheld tracking sensors.

IIHR Research Engineer Charles Stanier and his team monitor and map particulate pollutant concentrations in the air. To learn more about air pollution in Iowa, Stanier and his team have developed a project called CLE4R, a monitoring effort sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  Technology, partnership, environmental organizations, and education make up the four sturdy legs of the CLE4R project. The team has acquired 20 pollutant handheld Airbeam tracking sensors, deployed primarily in Dubuque and Iowa City, but Stanier would like to expand the project further. Stanier and his team are also developing daily actions and long-term goals to improve the overall air quality.

Walkers and bikers carry the Airbeam sensors to collect data, which are then translated to maps. Researchers can also compare the results from various places. Air quality does not change much over the course of any given day; however, smoking, cooking, or construction may cause spikes in air pollution. In particular, the Airbeam sensors show elevated pollution numbers near areas where diesel engines are operating.

The main goal of the CLE4R team is to study the performance and use of the monitors for educational use, not only for students, but also for environmental groups and the public. With this data, they will be able to support the development of the mapping software to support the CLE4R air-quality project.

The CLE4R team is integrating the Airbeam monitors into a curriculum kit that schools and teachers can check out from American Education Agencies (AEA) offices around Iowa. The researchers are currently studying how to optimize these monitors for usefulness, friendliness, and battery life so they can be used widely and more efficiently. Stanier plans to make the sensors available for educational and environmental purposes.

Pollution levels in Iowa are down 2–5% annually, primarily because of a reduction in sulfur dioxide in the air. Power plants are using less coal to produce electricity, and replacing it with natural gas and wind power. When plants burn coal, the SO2 is removed before it is emitted into the atmosphere. Also, since 2007, cleaner diesel fuel has become available. Clean diesel engines also have a filtration system to remove all smoke from the exhaust. This has also sent vehicle pollution rates plummeting.

Stanier hopes that air quality will continue to improve, not only Iowa, but also across the entire country.


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