The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality’s Pocatello Office has added ozone to the list of air pollutants it’s monitoring locally.
The DEQ’s ozone monitor is housed inside of a small trailer at its local monitoring station on Garrett Way near Gould Street. The DEQ also has a tower with a wind sensor to record weather data and particulate matter monitors at the same site.
Clay Woods, air shed coordinator for the DEQ’s Pocatello regional office, said there have already been a few days in which local ozone quality reached the moderate level, color coded as yellow. He believes the lack of a breeze on those days likely contributed to the moderate readings, which occurred in mid April.
“Yellow, or moderate, is kind of a warning that we’re getting elevated levels,” Woods said. “The next highest up is orange — unhealthy for sensitive groups.”
Woods said modeling suggests the area won’t experience many days in which ozone levels reach the orange level, but there will likely be a few.
Woods said DEQ determined a Southeast Idaho ozone monitor was needed based on modeling and population numbers. Ozone typically rises in correlation with population increases.
It’s created when oxides of nitrogen that are emitted from combustion and volatile organic compounds, often from industry, react with sunlight and oxygen in the air. It can cause eyes to water and a burning sensation in the throat; symptoms are worse for people with respiratory problems such as asthma.
Woods believes traffic is likely the greatest contributor to ozone pollution in the Pocatello area. He considers it noteworthy that Pocatello had a few moderate readings even amid the coronavirus stay-at-home order, when fewer people have been driving.
“We may get poor air quality days in the summer now because of ozone, where before there were more in winter because of inversion and particulate (matter),” Woods said, emphasizing none of the modeling suggests that Pocatello is imminently at risk of being out of compliance for ozone standards.
The next closest ozone monitor is located at Craters of the Moon National Monument, which is a remote location the DEQ uses to provide background data to compare readings elsewhere with clean air. There are also monitors in Utah population centers and in Boise.
Woods said the first action regulators take when ozone levels become concerning is to implement an emissions program, requiring inspection and maintenance of vehicles for emissions. Boise already has an emissions program in place, but Woods anticipates it will be a long while before Pocatello must adopt an emissions program.
Go to http://airquality.deq.idaho.gov/ to view Pocatello air-quality reports in real time. Ozone is listed on the site as O3, and the value at 8 a.m. on Wednesday was 40.4, classified as good, or green.