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Air Pollution Microscopy

Advanced Tools for Seeing Very Small Particles

Picture of Scanning Electron Microscope

These web pages show interesting, and sometimes beautiful, microscopic images of common air pollutants, along with photographs of the microscopy equipment used by the DEC Air Pollution Microscopy program.

DEC receives more than 100 requests for microscopic analysis each year. Air pollution samples are submitted from Regional DEC offices, usually after public complaints of air pollution violations. Once the microscopy program has identified the pollutants involved, DEC investigates and identifies suspected sources.

The Air Pollution Microscopy program uses a variety of analytical equipment to identify air pollutants: a Stereo Microscope, a Polarized Light Microscope (PLM), a Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) and a Fourier Transform Infrared Microscope (FTIR). The newly acquired scanning electron microscope will help implement the federally mandated 2.5 micron particulate standard.

Pollutants commonly identified include:

  • Coal Fly Ash
  • Incinerator Fly Ash
  • Oil Fly Ash
  • Mobile Source Particulate
  • 2.5 Micron Particulate
  • Asbestos

More about Air Pollution Microscopy:

  • Fine Particles - The US EPA has promulgated a new National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) for particulate matter (PM). This new standard applies to the mass concentration of particles with diameters of 2.5 micrometers or less
  • Vehicle Particulate - Automobiles, trucks, and buses are considered to be major contributors when it comes to air pollution particulates
  • Oil Flyash - Automobiles, trucks, and buses are considered to be major contributors when it comes to air pollution particulates
  • Incinerator Flyash - Garbage burning plants produce a wide variety of particulate. Wood, paper, textiles, and glass are commonly observed
  • Coal Flyash - The burning of coal produces a variety of particles. Most samples contain a mixture of raw coal, coke, unfused ash, and fused ash. The raw coal particles are smooth, shiny, black, angular pieces of the original product
  • Asbestos - Asbestos is a name actually describing a group of mineral silicates, five of which are shown below. It has been used in insulation, roofing, flooring, cements and automobile brake linings just to name a few.
  • Other Microscopy Images - The Air Pollution Microscopy program images many pollutants that are too small to see in air. Photos from the program are shown here.
  • Contact for this Page
    Division of Air Resources
    Bureau of Air Qualilty Surveillance
    625 Broadway
    Albany, NY 12233-3256
    Send us an email
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