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Bard College releases air quality results for the City of Kingston

Bard College Center for the Study of Land, Air and Water Director Dr. Eli Dueker installing the MetOne 212-2 particle profiler atop the Andy Murphy Neighborhood Center in Midtown Kingston.
Courtesy of the City of Kingston
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Bard College Center for the Study of Land, Air and Water Director Dr. Eli Dueker installing the MetOne 212-2 particle profiler atop the Andy Murphy Neighborhood Center in Midtown Kingston.

Following two years of research and data collection, Bard College is releasing the results of air quality monitoring in the City of Kingston in Ulster County.

In January 2020, Bard College’s Center for the Environmental Sciences and Humanities set up the air monitoring equipment on the roof of Andy Murphy Midtown Neighborhood Center on Broadway to monitor fine particulate matter.

It’s made up of microscopic particles that are the product of burning fuels. Fine particulate matter is released into the air through exhaust from oil burners, gas burners, automobiles, cooking, grilling and both indoor and outdoor wood burning.

Bard’s Center for the Environmental Sciences and Humanities Director Elias Dueker says the study was the first of its kind in the Hudson Valley,

“The first goal was to be able to provide baseline air quality data, and then be able to see if the efforts that the city was making around addressing air quality and climate change, were working over time," he said. "The second goal was to find out just how much air pollution the residents of Kingston were being exposed to. This kind of data is just not available normally.”

So, how is the air quality in the city?

The data shows it’s not dangerous according to standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, though it is above standards set by the World Health Organization.

But Dueker says it also shows citizens of Kingston are sometimes exposed to very high particulate levels when there are atmosphere inversions.

“We live in a valley and so, when the atmosphere structure produces an inversion, it means that whatever we are burning, so, for burning oil, natural gas, wood pellets - any other kind of burning," Dueker said. "In the valley, if we have an inversion, the smoke cannot leave. It sticks around and stays low to the ground where we’re breathing and, especially during those times, residents of Kingston - and I would say in the Hudson Valley, in general - can expect to be exposed to very high levels of particulate matter.”

Even still, Mayor Steve Noble touted Kingston’s air quality.

“I was pleasantly surprised to be able to see that we had such good air quality," he said. "But, I think we recognize, though, that even with a city that has really no large sources of pollution from within, we still had bad air quality days. And I think a lot of that is due to transportation infrastructure, heating infrastructure that exists in our homes and businesses.”

Noble, a Democrat in his second term, says the results support the city’s efforts to reduce its fossil fuel use. Kingston recently adopted the Climate Action Plan 2030, which includes the installation of electric vehicle charging stations in public parking lots and solar panels on municipal buildings.

“We're also really trying to invest a lot in non-motorized transportation options, encouraging people to bike, walk, as well as utilize public transportation here in Kingston," Noble said. "Because, by every vehicle mile, we can reduce of a fossil fuel burning engine, we're reducing particulate matter in our community. And so, we're hopeful that as we implement our climate action plan, we will be able to see further reductions in those bad air quality days that pop up once in a while.”

While many people love a wood burning furnace in the winter or a summer campfire, Dueker says it is important to remember both emit very toxic particulate matter.

“I'm a big time camper and outdoors person. I grew up in Illinois, where building fires was kind of the way that you engaged with each other and engaged with the outdoors and nature and it's been a really tough thing for me to come to terms with," Dueker said. "But, the science is absolutely overwhelming that, wood burning, in particular, and wood stoves, wood burning outside, pellets, no matter how efficient, you are told those wood stoves are, they emit very, very toxic particulate matter. It's kind of like, folks who are burning wood have a very tall cigarette and that cigarette is putting out the kind of particulate matter that is more dangerous, I think, than coal, even.”

He noted the negative consequences of the rise in glamourous camping, or “glamping,” which boomed during the pandemic.

Kingston will continue to monitor its air quality going forward and the program is expanding to places like Poughkeepsie and Newburgh. Dueker says more citizens need to aware of their air quality.

“Our air quality may be generally OK right now, but we really are nearing a time when it may not be and so it's a precious resource. I know air is something that people don't really think about too much, until you can't breathe. So, there are people in our community that are suffering now and we should be concerned about that.”