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Local agency starts monitoring air near expressways

If you're driving southbound 75 and happen to notice a shelter with a large antenna-like device sticking out the top near the 74 interchange, don't worry.  It's not spying on you or engaging in personal data mining.  It's among the first in a new national air monitoring program that starts this month.

The Southwest Ohio Air Quality Agency started the new program to monitor for air pollution in near-road environments.  And you can't get much nearer than this site, which sits about 15 to 20 feet from the interstate. 

Monitoring supervisor Anna Kelley said picking the location involved a lot of teamwork and a number of factors: 

"What we had to look for when we had this project was we had to look at areas that had high traffic congestion, a lot of different fuel or fleet mixes, so we needed trucks, cars and buses, also vehicle miles traveled, and, finally, population." 

The 75/74 interchange certainly fits the bill. 

The shelter, which houses an array of high-tech devices to monitor nitrogen dioxide, black carbon and weather conditions started its life as a shipping container.

"It's a little bit more secure than one of our normal shelters that we would use," said Kelley.  "And we are very close to the road, so we needed something a little more robust."

The facility  soon will also monitor carbon monoxide and fine particles.  But the thing that draws the most attention to the new air monitoring site is what motorists notice from the interstate--the tall mast extending from the shelter.

"It's a 10-meter mast and it's actually pneumatic, so it allows us to retract the mast using an air compressor that's inside the shelter," said environmental technician Adam Blundell.  Attached to the mast is a probe for drawing in air samples.

The near-road monitoring station is the result of U.S. EPA requirements.  The goal is to protect the health of people who live and work near roadways where maximum pollution concentrations are expected.  About 53 such stations are being put up around the country.  Cincinnati's is the first in Ohio.  Columbus and Cleveland will also have similar monitoring stations. 

Click this link to see data from the site as well as other local air quality information.