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Albany South End Community Air Quality Study

Community involvement is key. Cleaner air for the South End is best achieved with community engagement. DEC reached out to the community to develop an intensive neighborhood monitoring plan and will use the information collected from the Study to evaluate air quality concerns and take steps to address those findings. Funds for the Study came from a $500,000 investment in an environmental improvement program for the South End through designated Environmental Justice monies in the record $300 million Environmental Protection Fund.

About the Study

The year-long community study will evaluate the air quality in Albany South End which is impacted by trucks, trains, marine vessels, cargo handling equipment, oil and gas storage, and industrial facilities handling petroleum products. The study has been designed to assess:

  • How much particulate matter comes from motor vehicles versus Port activities.
  • How far does particulate matter travel from the road into the neighborhood.
  • How much benzene comes from sources in the Port versus vehicles on local roadways.
  • Approaches to help the community understand air quality.

Fixed Monitoring Sites

A fixed air monitoring station
The fixed monitoring station on 3rd Avenue

Two fixed monitoring sites have been installed in the neighborhood. One monitor is located at the Ezra Prentice Homes and the other is on 3rd Avenue near Hawk Street. The fixed monitors will be used to help determine how much pollution comes from motor vehicles versus industrial activities in the Port of Albany. The monitors will collect concentrations of gaseous chemicals and particulate matter and will provide information wind speed and direction. Results for many of the pollutants monitored can be viewed online.

Another fixed monitor has been in operation in the community since 1973 at the Albany County Health Department. Concentrations of gaseous chemicals and particulate matter from this monitor will also be used in the study.

Portable Monitoring

Two community volunteer and DEC staff member carrying sampling equipment.
A community volunteer (left)
sampling with DEC staff

The monitoring plan also includes street-by-street sampling for pollutants from diesel emissions in Albany's South End to better understand people's exposures and sources. The portable instruments measure ultrafine particles and black carbon and operate for a short period (like 3 to 4 hours). They're placed in a backpack to make it easier to walk through the neighborhood to collect measurements. Residents and local students have been taking part in the study by carrying a backpack.

The portable instruments are also mounted on a tower which collects data on wind speed and direction. The tower is placed temporarily at locations to provide a more detailed look at how concentrations of ultrafine particles and black carbon vary in small areas like within a housing complex or a residential block.

The portable monitoring will help us identify how traffic emissions influence pollutant levels for short periods of time and how much and how far particulate matter travels from the road into the neighborhood.

Passive Benzene Monitoring

A network of samplers for benzene has been installed because there are several benzene sources in the area. Eight to ten passive benzene samplers will collect air samples for a two-week period. Three of the samplers will remain at fixed locations at the Ezra Prentice and 3rd Avenue fixed sites and at the County Health Department. The samplers help us understand sources contributing to benzene concentrations across the study area.

DEC staff set up a portable air monitoring instrument
Portable instruments mounted on
weather tower

Parameters Measured

We are measuring chemical gases and four types of particles. Instruments were installed at the Ezra Prentice Homes and the 3rd Avenue fixed monitoring sites to measure wind speed and direction.

Picture of a benzene passive sampler
Benzene passive sampler

Particulate matter

We are measuring four types.

PM10 - less than 10 microns in size. Comes from:

  • Crushing or grinding operations
  • Road dust
  • Handling dry goods like grains

PM2.5 - less than 2.5 microns in size. Comes from:

  • Burning petroleum-based fuels for heating buildings and powering motor vehicles
  • Dust from industrial activities

Ultrafine particles - less than 0.1 microns in size. Come from:

  • Burning diesel fuel in vehicles and other combustion sources

Black carbon (BC) - part of PM2.5 and soot. Comes from:

  • Burning fuel in diesel-powered vehicles and equipment
  • Burning petroleum-based fuels for industrial processes and heating buildings
  • Burning wood
Graphic showing size of PM size compared to a human hair

Particulate matter are tiny particles or droplets in air. The size of particulate matter is so small; it is hard to imagine. The picture shows a human hair that has been magnified 900 to 1200 times its real size.

The blue circles show how small PM10 is when compared to a human hair. The smaller orange circles inside the blue circles show how much smaller fine particles are against a human hair. The green circles inside the orange circle shows how even smaller ultrafine particles are in comparison to one human hair.

Dump truck emitting dark exhaust

Chemical Gases

Nitrogen oxides (or NOx) come from:

  • Burning petroleum-based fuels in motor vehicles and power equipment
  • Burning fuel to generate electricity

Benzene comes from:

Pumping gas
  • Gasoline fumes and produced by the burning of gasoline
  • Producing asphalt
  • Moving crude oil and gasoline from one container to another, for example from railcars to terminal storage vessels