It's best to take a look at multiple air quality readings in Pittsburgh

It’s best to take a look at multiple air quality readings in Pittsburgh

People across Pittsburgh felt confused and anxious after some smartphones issued alerts about the area’s extremely hazardous air quality earlier this month.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection said in a statement that the alarm was the result of a sensor malfunction in Beaver Falls, about 30 miles north of Pittsburgh. The sensor reported levels of particulate matter similar to what happens during wildfires, which were then picked up and reported by apps that collect air quality data from multiple sensors.

Anna Hoffman of Carnegie Mellon University’s Air Quality Engagement Project — part of the university’s robotics and technology-focused CREATE lab — said the error highlights why more than one air quality reading should be considered.

Individual sensors can malfunction and often change throughout the day.

“A lot of things can trigger the screen to go off, like a diesel truck or a train passing by, and that will cause temporary spikes,” Hoffman explained.

It’s best to look at three different screens, Hoffman said. Doing so will indicate whether the rise is temporary and local or regional.

“If you see something that has been trending for a long time and appears to be supported by a few screens, you can trust it,” Hoffman added.

Purple Air keeps sensors in the house Online Map It shows all sensor readings simultaneously in real time, which Hoffman said is one of the best tools for close monitoring.

Not all air pollution is the same

Before the state issued a statement about the sensor malfunction, Allegheny County officials initially blamed the false alerts on a prediction model used by many air quality data sources.

“Many applications attempt to predict PM2.5 levels as the day goes on,” the Allegheny County Health Department said in a statement. “When levels increase, apps show a higher PM2.5 level for the rest of the day. When there is a weather reversal, apps predict PM2.5 levels until late in the morning.”

County officials said monitors measure air quality hourly and do not expect readings. At the time of dispatch, county monitors measured “good” to “moderate” air quality levels of PM2.5, SO2 and ozone.

However, PM2.5 levels spiked later in the day, leading to a five-day air pollution warning. During that time, polluting companies were required to reduce their emissions.

Air quality forecasting technology is critical for this reason, said Randy Sargent, director of visualizations at CREATE Lab.

“We want to know early on when the pollution will be amplified because these are going to be really good times to reduce industrial processes that are causing a lot of really serious pollution in our region,” Sargent said.

While governments are required to report when measuring particulate matter and other pollutants that exceed acceptable levels, Sargent said they do not necessarily explain or analyze the different types of current air pollution and what those differences mean for the population.

“I think we sometimes oversimplify when we measure PM 2.5 because PM 2.5 from one source does not necessarily equal PM 2.5 from the other,” Sargent explained.

Sargent said the chemicals released in the coking process are particularly dangerous.

To give residents a better idea of ​​the source of daily air pollution, CREATE Lab . was developed Bloom Pittsburghwhich depicts patterns of air pollution and industrial sources across Allegheny County.


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