Bo Call, Utah Division of Air Quality (DAQ) air-monitoring manager, presents an air-quality-monitoring plan to the Moab City Council Tuesday, July 22. An ozone monitor has been placed in Moab to determine if there is an air-quality issue. A separate particulate-matter monitor will be set up in January 2015. [Photo by Bethany Blitz / Moab Sun News]

The City of Moab installed an ozone monitor near the Rotary Park on Tuesday, July 22 with help from the Utah Division of Air Quality (DAQ) after receiving public comment and concern for the condition of Moab’s air.

“There has been no monitoring in the valley in over 10 years,” City Council member Heila Ershadi said. “The information we get with this will help us to safeguard our public health and plan in a certain way.”

Ozone in the stratosphere (the “ozone layer”) protects humans from the harsh ultra-violet rays from the sun. But ozone at ground level can trigger a variety of health problems, including chest pain and respiratory issues.

Particulate matter and ground-level ozone are the two main factors that lower air quality, Utah Division of Air Quality air-monitoring manager Bo Call explained to council members. Particulate matter is created from combustion sources, such as machines that run on coal, and chemical reactions that happen in the air. Particulate matter tends to show peak levels in the winters. Ozone is more prominent with a lot of sunshine, high temperatures, and pollutants and tends to peak in summer.

Moab’s hot and sunny climate predisposes it to have high ozone levels, Call said. Add combustion machines, cars, and other pollutants caused by humans and the levels will be even higher.

Ershadi asked Call to present to the City Council about the monitoring process. The monitor placed in town will be there for six-to-eight weeks to catch the peak of ozone levels. It runs on solar power and is free for the city. The DAQ will collect the data from the machine and convert it into numbers that can be graphed. It will then present these graphs and a summary of the data to the City Council, which will distribute the information to the public. There will be another monitor placed in Moab in January of 2015 to measure particulate matter for the peak of those levels.

“The type of monitoring we are using is free so it won’t be an extra cost for our taxpayers, and it is not something that can lead to federal intervention,” Ershadi said. “This is purely for our local information and benefit.”

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is authorized by the Clean Air Act to establish the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). These standards regulate pollutant emissions and determine the maximum levels of pollutants (including ozone) that still maintain public health. The EPA has set the national standard for ozone at 75 parts per billion (PPB). However, it is currently proposing to lower the standard to between 55 and 70 PPB. This could raise concern for the Moab Valley, considering it has high background levels of ozone.

“The EPA wants standards that are ‘one size fits all,’” Call said. “They’re looking at what’s healthy, and that doesn’t change depending on where you are.”

There is an ozone monitor in Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park that has been there for over 20 years and one in Price that has been there for three years. Call has observed that the readings from these two devices parallel each other. Both show similar increases and drops in ozone during the same times. Levels go up in the summer and during the day, and they go down in the winter and at night.

Part of the reason the monitor was installed in Moab is to see if the readings here also parallel the readings in Canyonlands and Price. If the data shows that all three places fluctuate with each other and show similar readings, and the ozone levels in Moab are not concerning, there is no need for Moab to install a more permanent and more expensive monitoring system.

“As a mother who cares for her kids, and as a public official who cares for her community, I want to know,” Ershadi said. “I hope the results of the monitoring will put minds at ease.”

Chris Baird, executive director of Canyonlands Watershed Council, has been analyzing the air-quality data gathered by the ozone monitor in Canyonlands for 22 years. He said that ozone levels between 60 and 70 PPB affect people with sensitive respiratory systems, such as older people and people with asthma or lung disease. Levels above 70 PPB affect everyone. He noted that in the past 22 years, 14 days showed ozone levels above 75 PPB.

“This calls for alarm,” he said. “People here show a lot of outdoor exertion, and when levels get that high, people should know about it.”

From the data, Baird has found that the ozone levels in Canyonlands are going up 1 PPB every 10 years. An area’s average ozone level is calculated by its fourth-highest average over an eight-hour period. Baird said that if an area is over the national standard for three years in a row, it acquires a “non-attainment” status and must create a plan that addresses the problem and creates strategies to reduce ozone. He said this usually means managing a reduction in emissions, which can get expensive.

“There is no significant reason to believe there is a particulate or ozone concern, but we don’t have the scientific evidence to know that’s true,” Ershadi said. “We can’t have too much information. We want to be well informed so we can make the smartest decisions.”

“The type of monitoring we are using is free so it won’t be an extra cost for our tax payers, and it is not something that can lead to federal intervention. This is purely for our local information and benefit.”

Monitoring system installed near Rotary Park to collect data