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AIRNow--the eternal optimists

by D. Grant Haynes Friday, Jan. 01, 2010 at 1:52 AM

Air pollution reporting agency, AIRNow, consistently presents an excessively rosy air pollution levels forecast--one seldom, if ever, born out by actual contaminant levels on the ground.

Anyone surfing the Internet for reports of air pollution levels in North America will likely encounter an outfit called "AIRNow". AIRNow presents at any given time two color-keyed maps of the contiguous United States. One map presents "Current Conditions", while the other presents a "Forecast"--for the next 12 hours, I presume, though the precise time frame of the forecast is not made clear.

The makers of these ever-changing maps use the Environmental Protection Agency's color coding system to present and forecast pollution levels in various areas in terms of colors.

The absence of color coding on a map represents "good" air--air with 0-50 parts per million of whatever pollutant is being measured. (Data on fine dust and carbon particles designated as "PM2.5" is presented most often because these are the most dangerous to human health of the standard mix of poisons we breathe daily.)

Yellow splotches on AIRNow maps indicate present or forecast conditions of 51-100 ppm of pollution particles. That is designated as a "Moderate" pollutant level.

Orange areas on the maps indicate a higher pollutant level--101-150 ppm. This level is designated as "unhealthy for sensitive groups".

From there, the scale goes up to a bright red (unhealthy) designation (151-200 ppm), as well as "very unhealthy" (200-300) and "hazardous" (301-500) levels.

This is all well and good and AIRNow, which boasts over 150 participating pollution measurement and abatement organizations at the national, international, state, regional, and local levels, presents a facade of helping the public make wise decisions about daily activities, etc. by warning them of potentially bad air in their area.

There is only one problem with AIRNow--one that causes me to suspect them to be a front for industry or, at the very least, champions of a go slow, conservative, status quo-perpetuating approach to cleaning up the environment.

AIRNow forecasts always rosy

Their forecasts are almost always exceptionally rosy, with only a few pockets of troublesome pollution shown from sea to shining sea on the North American continent. Looking at their forecast maps tends to reassure an American that things aren't really so bad and that maybe old Al Gore and those granola-crunching tree huggers are exaggerating the seriousness of pollution.

After all, the naive would say after looking at AIRNow's daily forecast, "we got us a pretty clean God-fearing nation and I'm tired of the alarmism about dirty air and melting ice caps and all of that baloney."

And Joe Sixpack probably does, indeed, say or think this a millions times a day as he guffaws and snorts about an alleged "Climategate".

Current conditions map different story

But when Joe or anyone else accesses the "Current Conditions" map through its tab on the AIRNow page, a more realistic pollution story unfolds. Day after day, the story is the same. Pollution is more widespread and extensive than their forecast anticipated. The AIRNow organization either lacks the services of a competent forecaster or they are intentionally lying through their cyber teeth in their perpetually rosy forecasts.

I believe it's time to shine some light into this dark corner of likely industry-inspired shading of the truth about the condition of the air we must all breathe.

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