Community Air Screen Program Overview
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), through funding provided by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is renewing a community-based screening program for toxic air pollutants that was successfully launched in 2012. The purpose of DEC's Community Air Screen program is to conduct community-level air quality surveillance with the help of community groups and interested citizens.
DEC provides the sampling equipment, trains people on how to use the equipment and works with the community to determine the best location and time period for sampling. All air sampling equipment will be returned to the DEC offices in Albany for analysis of the samples and interpretation of the results.
The goals of Community Air Screen program are to understand community concerns arising from air toxics on a localized level and to work with the community to address problems. Toxic air pollutants are those pollutants that are known or suspected to cause cancer or other serious health effects, such as reproductive effects or birth defects, or adverse environmental effects. This program will focus on gaseous pollutants at this time and not on fine particulate matter. Examples of gaseous toxic air pollutants include benzene, which is found in gasoline; perchloroethylene, which is used by some dry cleaning facilities; and formaldehyde which is released from fossil fuel burning engines and also formed in the atmosphere in the presence of Volatile Organic Compounds VOCs and sunlight. Although the focus of the program is on gaseous pollutants, we are interested in learning about all air-related community concerns.
The Community Air Screen program will utilize sampling equipment that collects air over a short period of time, 1-hour. Depending on the types of sources in the community, the same location may be sampled a few times or multiple samplers may be used over the community. The goal of this type of sampling is to provide a quick understanding of the types of air toxics found in the community using EPA-approved air sampling equipment and analysis method. If air toxics are detected at levels of concern, additional testing will be conducted. One benefit of the screening approach is that it allows for a rapid assessment of many communities statewide.
Since the samples are collected over a short period of time and are a limited number of samples, the information obtained cannot be used for enforcement or compliance purposes. Additionally, the results from this screening approach cannot be used to provide a complete understanding of risk attributable from air toxics in the community.
How will communities be selected for participation in the Air Screen Program?
Local community groups or interested citizens will request participation in the Community Air Screen Program through an application process. Upon selection to the Program, the location for sampling in the community will be determined using information provided by the community group, local meteorological information and location of industrial sources or traffic areas. The number of samples collected for each community will vary depending on the industrial sources, pollutant of concern and estimated community air quality level.
What type of sampling equipment will be used?
The air samples for evaluation of volatile organic compounds will be collected using 6-liter stainless steel 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.
This type of equipment is convenient and provides a reliable method for collecting air samples. The canisters are stainless steel and are designed to maintain the integrity and stability of the sample while it is transported to the laboratory. Also, canisters provide more accurate results than bucket type samplers which are sometimes used for community sampling.
The samples will be analyzed by DEC laboratory using EPA's method TO-15. The list of air toxics found using this method of analysis is also available upon request. Sampling for formaldehyde will be done using small sampling tubes with 2,4-dinitrophenylhydrazine (DNPH) on the sampling media. The samples will be analyzed using EPA's method TO-11A.
What happens if the Community Air Screen program identifies air toxics at a level of concern for my community?
Additional air sampling will be conducted and if further sampling confirms air quality concerns, then a recommendation will be made for further evaluation through EPA's Community-Based Air Toxics program. That program supports projects designed to assist state, local and tribal communities in identifying and profiling air toxics sources, characterizing the degree and extent of local air toxics problems, and tracking progress of air toxics reduction activities. In the intervening time, DEC will try to identify emission sources in the community that may be contributing to the levels of concern and look at ways to reduce the levels of air toxics found.
Why is DEC asking us to collaborate in the Community Air Screen program?
Community involvement in this program will help us understand your air quality concerns and find answers to some of the basic questions about air quality that we have not been able to answer in the past. Since air toxics tend to be a local issue, this program is designed to focus on local-scale sampling.