Kingston/Bard College Air Quality Initiative Monitors Particulate Matter | WAMC

Kingston/Bard College Air Quality Initiative Monitors Particulate Matter

Sep 15, 2020

Kingston is partnering with Bard College to monitor the city’s air quality. The Kingston Air Quality Initiative is providing hard data on one particular pollutant. The hope is that the information will help drive policy, shape development and educate the public.

The initiative grew from Kingston’s Conservation Advisory Council’s Air Quality Sub-Committee, which Lorraine Farina chairs. The monitoring is for PM2.5, or fine particulate matter.

“The PM2.5 is the most concerning as far as human health goes, and air pollution, too. What people may not know is that these polluting technologies not only are terrible for human health but also are major contributors to climate change,” Farina says. “We hear a lot of course, about greenhouse gases, which is, it’s important; we need to hear about those and we need to mitigate those, but the second major force in climate change is black carbon, which is produced by biomass burning and wood burning, in particular.”

Negative health impacts include increased respiratory symptoms and disease; chronic bronchitis and decreased lung function, especially for people with asthma. Though Bard began monitoring in Kingston in January, the initiative was announced this month. So the monitoring started before COVID hit.

“There’s certainly now science showing COVID vulnerability among people who are exposed to higher levels of PM2.5, particulate matter 2.5, because, of course, COVID is a respiratory disease ad these particles are tiny particles that penetrate into the lungs,” says Farina. “So people have higher rates of death actually from COVID when they are exposed to these levels.”

There is one monitor, and it’s atop the Andy Murphy Midtown Neighborhood Center on Broadway, across the street from city hall and near Kingston High School. Elias Dueker is director of the Center for the Study of Land, Air and Water and associate professor of Environmental and Urban Studies at Bard College. He’s also a Kingston resident.

‘The air quality in Kingston, by and large, is fine and meets the EPA [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency] standard for 24-hour loading of particulate matter, which is what is the problem, so, which is great, but that there are times, and we’re doing a closer look at the times when, for a couple minutes or so, the particulate matter will increase above those guidelines. And while that doesn’t mean, that doesn’t trigger us saying that there’s bad air quality, according to the EPA, it does mean that there are times when folks in our city are exposed to higher levels,” Dueker says. “And the interesting thing was we put this up in January, which is the height of wood burning and burning fuel for heat, and we then, with COVID coming in, it does mean that we were able to look at the fact that there was a decrease in particulate matter, and it seems to be based on the fact that, where, our monitor is right by the high school there, and could see how cars coming and picking up people and dropping them off at the high school would change the particulate matter in the air. So we’re able to look at how, the way that we’ve changed our lives for COVID has shifted particulate matter in our air."   

Farina says air quality differs throughout the city.

“Not everybody has access to the same quality, the same level of air quality. People who live in one neighborhood may be affected by, let’s say, a heating system or a choice of fuel, from a business or from a residence, and the people who live in that neighborhood may be affected for blocks and have very poor air quality whereas people who live just maybe 20 blocks away might not,” says Farina. “So one of the goals of this partnership is to be sure that we’re monitoring neighborhoods to assure that we have access to clean air for all residents.”

Dueker says the partnership is a first for both Bard and the city.

“It’s really helpful to get this kind of data because Kingston’s never had it before, and it can only help in terms of making informed citizen decisions around developing as a sustainable city,” Dueker says. “And, because we talk a lot about developing as a sustainable city, but if we’re not able to actually measure whether or not the decisions we make are working, it just means we’re missing out on an opportunity to get better at that.”

He adds:

“As we’re seen with the current administration federally, we’re losing funding and we’re losing regulations that we’ve depended on to keep ourselves safe, and it becomes more important that on the local level we’re able to then take that up and protect ourselves,” Deuker says.

Kingston residents and students, staff, and faculty of the Bard Community Science Lab are conducting the monitoring.