How scientists predict air quality

By Andrew Freiden - bio | email
Posted by Phil Riggan – email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – Weather forecasts predict temperature, rain and snow.  But there's a whole other kind of forecast out there, one that predicts air quality.

At four sites around Richmond -- behind locked gates -- the instruments measure air pollution.  At the Math and Science Center in Henrico and at sites in Charles City, Chesterfield and Hanover, they measure ozone, fine particles, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide. All things that can hurt our health.

"It's a simple case of public health. You have to ensure that people are not going to be adversely affected by the air that they are breathing," said meteorologist Dan Salkovitz.

Salkovitz is with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, which uses these special monitors to measure data and make daily forecasts for the air you breathe.  You see it every morning on 12 News Today.

And right now, it's peak season for air quality forecasters.

"Ozone gets formed with bright sunlight and warm temperatures and light winds, and summertime is when you get those," he said.

It's formed by a chemical reaction, when pollutants are baked by the sun.

"Stuff that wouldn't be there were it not for the cars and trucks and industries and power plants and thing like that," he said.

And our attention to those pollutants is paying off.

"Air quality unquestionably has been improving over the years," Salkovitz said. "The readings we get now are nowhere near the readings we would get in the 80s and 90s."

The reason:  Industries, power plants, and our cars are all cleaner than ever. This year, there has only been a handful of code orange -- unhealthy days -- allowing us to all breathe easier.

The Environmental Protection Agency will be announcing new, stricter ozone health standard in a couple of months. That means that orange and red days will occur more often next summer.

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