Air Monitoring for Hurricane Sandy
Note: Effective May 16, 2013, all monitoring related to Hurricane Sandy has been discontinued.
Air Quality in Hurricane Sandy Recovery Areas
In response to air quality concerns in Hurricane Sandy recovery areas (lower Hudson Valley, New York City and Long Island), DEC and several other government authorities are coordinating efforts to protect the public and make information available so people can protect themselves. This webpage will be updated regularly, so please check back for updated information. Also available is a joint press release from the involved agencies.
Three Important Things You Should Know
- No Overall Significant Increase in Ambient Air Pollution
DEC's routine air monitoring network has shown no overall significant increase in ambient (outdoor) air pollution across the region affected by Hurricane Sandy. Air pollution in hurricane recovery areas, however, will increase at times as cleanup and rebuilding continue. To assess air pollution from storm cleanup, DEC and EPA have placed supplemental air quality monitors near these activities. As cleanup progresses and sources of air pollution cease activity, the monitors will be removed.
- Extraordinary Event/Ordinary Pollutants
Though the hurricane was an extraordinary event, air pollutants encountered during cleanup activities (mold, dust, vapors and exhaust fumes) are not unusual, even though they may at times be more concentrated in recovery areas.
- Take Precautions in Recovery Areas
The regional monitors will continue to provide information about regional air quality. The supplemental monitors will provide information about air quality near recovery activities. DEC recommends that people be aware of regional and local air quality and protect themselves from airborne pollutants in affected areas. As recovery work continues, people working outside in areas where high ambient particle concentrations may be present should use N95 dust masks.
Routine Air Quality Monitoring
DEC continually monitors air quality across the state to provide the data necessary to forecast the Air Quality Index (AQI), determine whether pollutant concentrations meet air quality standards, and issue advisories when air pollutants threaten public health.
DEC monitors for several pollutants using instruments placed well away from sources of pollution to reflect air quality impacting the population over relatively large areas. Concentrations of pollutants measured by these monitors vary from day to day, mainly because of weather and pollutant emission patterns, like rush-hour traffic for example. Data from existing large-area monitors does not necessarily reflect pollutant concentrations close to sources of pollution, like dust from Hurricane Sandy cleanup activities. Supplemental monitors are needed for such measurements.
Hurricane Sandy Air Quality Questions and Answers
How is DEC measuring air quality in areas affected by Hurricane Sandy?
After Hurricane Sandy, DEC and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) added supplemental pollution monitors to areas where air quality is being affected by cleanup-related pollutants. DEC and EPA are focusing on monitoring for fine particles. Concentrations of fine particles are expected to be higher because of cleanup activities, including:
- Debris handling and storage
- Increased heavy-vehicle traffic (dump trucks, loaders and excavators)
- Controlled incineration of woody debris
- Operation of temporary generators, boilers and space heaters
What are fine particles?
Fine particles (also called PM-2.5) are tiny airborne specks of dust or droplets that are small enough to be inhaled into the lungs. Fine particles are always present in the air. Concentrations are usually higher in urban areas and near sources of air pollution like traffic. PM-2.5 comes from the combustion of fuel in vehicles, buildings and power stations, as well as wood burning and windborne pollution from surrounding states, from across the nation, or even from overseas. Airborne dust from increased traffic and other activities associated with cleaning up after a storm can also produce PM-2.5 and larger particles that may become trapped in the nose and throat.
How can fine particles affect my health?
Exposure to high concentrations of fine particles can cause nose, throat and lung irritation and worsen chronic heart and lung problems. The elderly, young children and those with chronic health problems are more sensitive to PM-2.5. The risk of health effects can increase with long-term and repeated exposures.
More information on PM-2.5 is available in the EPA brochure, Particle Pollution and Your Health (PDF) (318 kB) or on NYSDOH's webpage, Fine Particles (PM-2.5) Questions and Answers.
What can be done to reduce airborne dust or particles?
Airborne dust and particles can be reduced by wetting debris piles and washing streets to prevent dust accumulations and the stirring up of dust by traffic. The supplemental air monitors installed by DEC and EPA are useful in assessing the effectiveness of dust control measures. The supplemental monitor in lower Manhattan is being used to assess the local impact of temporary generators, boilers and dehumidifiers. This equipment is being operated because many buildings are undergoing renovations to their power and heating and ventilation systems due to damage from the storm. The emissions from this temporary equipment are being released in areas surrounded by tall buildings which prevent the normal dispersion of these pollutants. The pollutant levels will be higher in these areas when wind speeds are low particularly in the late evening and early morning. Local residents and workers should avoid being outdoors in these areas for prolonged periods if possible.
Where are the supplemental monitors located and what are they showing about the air quality?
The following map shows the locations of the supplemental monitors. The map will be updated as new monitors are installed or removed:
Note: Effective February 14, 2013, DEC has discontinued operation of the temporary air monitoring station in Lower Manhattan due to the removal of the majority of portable generators as the area continues to recover from Hurricane Sandy. Also, the air monitors at Mill Basin, Rockaway PS114 and Gerristen Beach that were used to measure emissions from Floyd Bennett are no longer required and were shutdown on February 22, 2013. Effective April 4, 2013, DEC discontinued operation of the temporary air monitoring station at Rockaway Beach.
The following graph shows the most recent 24-hour averages of PM-2.5 concentrations as measured at the supplemental monitor locations and how those measurements relate to the data from the regional air quality monitors. Due to cell connectivity issues, data may be delayed from some locations. Gaps in the data will be filled in as cell connections are re-established. See monitoring data from previous weeks.
The following chart shows the AQI evaluations for the most recent 24-Hr averages of PM-2.5 measured at the supplemental monitor locations. It also explains what the colors mean with regard to potential health effects:
The map Air Monitoring Sites: All Parameters, NYC Area shows the locations of DEC's previously existing regional air monitors. Using the following links, you can click on specific monitors for hourly air quality conditions in hurricane-affected areas:
- Lower Hudson Valley: Rockland County/Conklin Orchard and White Plains
- New York City: Bronx, New York, Queens, Kings and Richmond Counties
Note: Clicking each county brings up a map with more monitoring sites.
- Long Island: Eisenhower Park, Babylon and Suffolk County
How can I reduce my exposure to fine particles in the air in a storm-affected area?
You can reduce your exposure to fine particles by avoiding strenuous outdoor activities (outdoor cleaning/exercise) on days when an air quality health advisory has been issued for your area, or when you see haze or dust in the air from ongoing hurricane recovery efforts.
If you live or are working in an area where construction, demolition and debris movement are generating airborne dust, you can reduce your exposure by avoiding outdoor activities near dusty debris piles and streets. Keeping windows closed when the outside air is dusty can help reduce exposure.
Although not specifically related to the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, you can take additional steps to reduce your exposure to fine particles by not allowing smoking in your home and reducing your use of indoor sources of air particles, such as candles, wood-burning stoves, and fireplaces. These can produce higher concentrations of PM-2.5 than outdoor sources.
How can residents or contractors doing cleanup work reduce exposure to dust?
If you are performing cleanup work, the NYSDOH recommends you wear protective equipment like an N95 respirator, gloves and eye protection.
For additional information about PM-2.5, cleanup activities, and personal protection, please read the NYSDOH Disaster Recovery Information booklet (PDF) (190 kB) or call 518-402-7810.
Health Information from Other Sources
EPA, NYSDOH, and the New York City departments of Environmental Protection (NYCDEP) and Health and Mental Hygiene (NYCDOH&MH) have additional information to help people reduce health risks as they clean up and rebuild after the hurricane.
The following off-site web links lead to this information:
- EPA: Hurricane Sandy Response and Recovery
- NYSDOH: Hurricane Sandy Preparedness and Recovery
- NYCDOH&MH: Hurricane Sandy Recovery and Your Health
- NYCDEP: Hurricane Sandy Recovery Info
- NYCDEP: Hurricane Sandy Recovery - Asbestos Monitoring (PDF) (829 kB)
- Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center: Air Monitoring Results - Daily Summary