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Frequently Asked Questions for the Community Air Screen Program

What is the Community Air Screen program?

A person holding a I care about clean air! sign

The Community Air Screen program is a community-based screening program for toxic air pollutants (air toxics). Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) staff provides the sampling equipment and training to interested community members who gather an air sample with the equipment. The sample is sent to a laboratory for analysis and the results are reported back to the community.

Where can I find more information?

If you have questions, email us at cas@gw.dec.state.ny.us or telephone us at 518-402-8044.

Application Process

Who can apply for the program?

Individuals, as well as not-for profits and neighborhood and community groups in New York State, are eligible to apply. Priority is given to projects in or near low-income and minority communities and public locations where people are more likely to spend time outdoors.

How many applications will be selected?

Anywhere from 12 to 18 applicants will be selected for this program. A total number of sixty (60) air samples will be analyzed statewide.

Will this program allow more than one sample to be taken in the community?

Yes, depending on the situation. A community may ask for up to 5 samples in order to sample different times of day and different spots around the neighborhood.

Is there a cost involved?

No. All training, equipment and lab analysis costs are covered by the Community Air Screen program. Community willingness to partner with us is priceless!

Application Selection

How does DEC select the communities for participation in the Community Air Screen Program?

The completed application is carefully looked over by a DEC review panel and scored.

Information in Part 3 (Community Concern) and Part 4 (Sampling Plan and Community Description) of the application is used in the scoring process. It's important that these two areas of the application include detailed information about air quality concerns and neighborhood characteristics.

Can I choose the time for sampling?

It is important that we know when you want to sample and we will work to accommodate your request as much as possible. However, the program has a limited number of sampling canisters and the laboratory can only analyze a certain number of canisters in any given time. Therefore, the canisters will be rotated for sampling in order to ensure all samples are processed in a timely manner and the canisters are properly cleaned before being used again.

How are the samples analyzed?

The samples will be analyzed by the TO-15 method at the laboratory. The list of air toxics found using this method of analysis is also available upon request. Both the sampling equipment and laboratory analysis method are EPA-approved.

Sampling

What type of sampling equipment will be used?

Sampling is done using 6-liter stainless steel polished canisters, sometimes called SUMMA canisters. Six liters is about a gallon and a half. The term "SUMMA" refers to the high-quality polishing of the canisters. SUMMA canisters provide very accurate results and keep the sample safe and stable during shipment to the laboratory. Training on using the SUMMA canister is provided.

Photo of a sampling canister

How much time is involved in sampling?

Sampling takes about 3 hours total. Training takes about 1-hour and is provided by DEC staff and this includes a short instruction video. Participants will learn how to prepare for sampling, how to set up the equipment and how to collect the sample.

Participants will also learn what to look for in the neighborhood that might affect the results and where to record this information - paying attention to activities that may affect the sample, like someone mowing a lawn or a truck idling nearby.

Collecting the sample takes about one hour. It includes:

  1. Placing the sampling canister in an appropriate location,
  2. Turning on a small valve,
  3. Staying with the sampling canister for about one hour to record information about local sources and wind conditions on the day of sampling,
  4. Closing the valve one hour later, and
  5. Notifying DEC that the canister with the collected sample is ready to send to the DEC laboratory in Albany.

Can samples be taken inside a house or garage?

No. The Community Air Screen program focuses only on outdoor air concerns. If there is a concern about an indoor air problem, please contact the New York State Department of Health's Center for Environmental Health at 1-800-458-1158.

How much does a canister weigh?

The canister weighs about 5-6 pounds and is glass lined.

Does the sample have to be taken by a certain date?

Yes. Each canister has a 'use by date' on it; however, it's best to use the canister as soon as possible after receiving it.

What happens if the canister breaks or the equipment isn't working?

Please contact your DEC regional office or email us at cas@gw.dec.state.ny.us and we will make arrangements for a replacement canister.

What are the steps to return the canister?

Directions to return the canister and tripod are included with the canister. If UPS is used, postage will be provided.

If my application is selected for the program, how will I receive a canister and how will I get it to the laboratory in Albany?

Once you are notified of acceptance to the program, the canister (or canisters, depending on how many you requested) will be sent from Albany either by UPS to your address or to the nearest DEC office in your area. Staff in the regional office will call you to arrange for delivery.

After you obtain your air sample, you will use the box the canister and tripod came in to mail back to Albany. UPS postage is provided.

What are DEC's quality assurance and quality control procedures?

A DEC employee working with a sampling canister in the laboratory

Quality assurance and quality control (QA/QC) procedures are important steps to guaranteeing accurate results. Everyone involved in the program will be helping to ensure these steps are followed - including our participants!

The Community Air Screen program uses EPA-approved sampling and analysis methods to ensure the sampling results are accurate. Also, the laboratory at DEC participates in EPA's National Air Toxics Trends System and must follow all the required QA/QC procedures to ensure reproducible results.

First, controls in the laboratory include precision (the ability of repeated measurements to show the same results). Laboratory precision will be evaluated by analyzing every 10th sample twice. Then, laboratory interference (the possibility of contamination due to laboratory handling) will be evaluated by analyzing one blank canister every 10 samples.

Next, controls in the field (meaning controls during sampling) will be evaluated with the help of our participants. Occasionally, a second canister (called a collocated sample) will be collected alongside the primary sample collected by the community group. The Community Air Screen program participants will be asked to collect the collocated sample with their primary sample. If the primary and collocated sample yield similar results then the field precision is good.

Another field control step is the evaluation of field interference. This is assessed during sampling and will be determined by looking at the pressure reading on the canister prior to sampling and after sampling. The pressure readings should be specific values at both readings. If these two readings don't match what is expected, then air has entered the canister either prior to sampling or after sampling.

By working as a team, we can produce high quality, accurate results for this program.

Results

Will we be notified of the results?

Yes. Participants will be notified within a few months after the sample is taken.

What happens if the results show air toxics are a concern for my community?

If results suggest air toxics are a concern, DEC will conduct additional air sampling. If further sampling confirms air quality concerns, then DEC will best determine possible sources in the community contributing to the higher air toxics levels and look for ways to reduce those levels.

Also, a recommendation will be made for further evaluation through EPA's Community-Based Air Toxics program. EPA's program supports projects designed to:

  1. assist state, local and tribal communities in identifying and profiling air toxics sources,
  2. describe the degree and extent of local air toxics problems, and
  3. track progress of air toxics reduction activities.

How will the results from this Community Air Screen program be used?

This type of sampling provides a quick snapshot of the types of air toxics found in the community. The results will be used to better understand local air quality concerns.

These samples are one tool among many that DEC uses to figure out the levels of air pollutants in a community and the sources contributing to these levels. The combination of taking only a few one-hour samples and being flexible about the location and time for sampling makes these results less reliable without further sampling. The results alone cannot be used for enforcement or compliance purposes.

Screening

What is a toxic air pollutant?

Toxic air pollutants, also known as air toxics, are those pollutants that are known or suspected to cause cancer or other serious health effects, such as reproductive effects, birth defects or harmful environmental effects.

Graphical display of some of the health effects caused by toxic air pollutants

What air toxics will be identified with this Community Air Screen program?

The Community Air Screen program focuses on gaseous pollutants. Examples of gaseous toxic air pollutants include benzene, which is found in gasoline; perchloroethylene, which is used by some dry cleaning facilities; and methylene chloride, which is used as a solvent and paint stripper. Although the focus of the program is on toxic air pollutants, we are interested in learning about all air-related community concerns.

What things will this program NOT screen for?

The Community Air Screen program does not screen for fine particulate matter. Fine particulate matter (PM2.5) is tiny particle matter with a width smaller than 2.5 microns. By comparison, the width of human hair is 40 to 120 microns. Other criteria pollutants not screened for are sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, lead, ozone and nitrogen dioxide. Additionally, the program will not test for diesel exhaust, dioxins, PCBs, brominated flame retardants or metals in air or for anything other than the air pollutants listed.

Why does DEC want to collaborate with us on the Community Air Screen program?

Air toxics tend to be a local issue. This program is designed to focus on local-scale sampling. You partnering with us will help us better understand your concerns about air quality in your community. Working together, we hope to find new information about local air quality that will help us figure out what is going on in your area and better address your questions. Additionally, the funds for the Community Air Screen program are provided by the EPA to support community-based action programs.

What can I do to help clean the air in my community?

Routine activities at home, such as mowing your lawn or turning on your air conditioner, create air pollution. Tips that help you reduce air pollution around your home can be found on our web page Clean Air Starts at Home.