In the eyes of the EPA, metropolitan air quality either meets or fails regulatory standards. There is no middle ground.
Its stance is substantiated by a growing body of research, including studies from the American Heart Association, the British Medical Journal and the National Center for Biotechnology Information, all citing a link between concentrations of particulate matter in the air and incidents of cardiac arrest.
To mitigate that risk, the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) holds each state and county to task in the acceptable execution of its air quality standards. Areas that fail to meet a standard are subject to a multi-year effort called a state implementation plan, which requires aggressive modeling and efforts to reduce pollution activity in excess of EPA standards.
For public health officials like Matt Lacke, meteorologist with the Jefferson County Department of Health, active hourly monitoring of air quality is vital. Lacke relies on the intelligence and air quality solutions provided by Baron, the leading provider of air quality modeling.
“Our goal is not only to meet the EPA’s air quality standards, but to continually improve air quality,” said Lacke. “Here in Alabama, particularly in Jefferson County, due to the high level of manufacturing and industry here, we’ve had a history of poor air quality. While we are now meeting the health-based air quality standards as set forth by the EPA, the fact is, they are continuously revising their standards, and there is the potential for us not to meet those in the future.”
That possibility is one Lacke said he refuses to allow on his watch. It’s one of the primary reasons his division, which focuses on air and radiation protection, was first created. Its express purpose is to regulate industry and enforce pollution regulations throughout Jefferson County, the center of the Birmingham metro area.
In the seven years Lacke has served as the division’s meteorologist, he’s relied on air quality forecast models from leading critical weather intelligence provider Baron so that he can create his own air quality forecast; that forecast is then distributed to the EPA’s AirNow website, and can also be seen in major media outlets throughout the nation. Lacke said he likes Baron’s air quality forecasting data for the actionable intelligence it delivers.
“I reference the Baron Air Quality Forecast System every time I prepare an air quality forecast,” said Lacke. “It’s easy to use and provides me with the information I need, primarily with regard to what the model is thinking in terms of AQI (air quality index) levels. I find its accuracy to be very good.”
The forecasts are a vital part of the division’s public health service, because they are used by susceptible individuals to take avoidance actions – like staying inside – when pollutant levels are forecast to be high on a given day, designated by the EPA as “code orange” or above.
That’s where the Baron Air Quality Forecast System enters the picture. It includes three different models, each with unique strengths that together provide a comprehensive forecast picture. Real-time forecast data extends out five days, well beyond what Lacke can receive from the National Weather Service.
According to John McHenry, chief scientist for Baron Advanced Meteorological Systems, Baron developed the system not only to help state and local agencies remain in compliance with evolving EPA standards, but most importantly to improve health alerts for people who have cardiac or pulmonary susceptibilities to high air pollution levels.
“One of Baron’s three models, the Multiscale Air Quality Simulation Platform (MAQSIP – RT), is particularly useful with ozone forecasting, which is a huge priority between the months of May and September,” McHenry said. “Given the negative impacts of excessive ozone pollution, which include reduced crop yields and are particularly harmful for people with asthma or chronic bronchitis, it’s not surprising that ozone violation standards are coming down from the EPA more quickly than other air quality standards. This is a difficult standard to meet and has the potential to put many more counties and states out of compliance. It’s an area municipalities cannot afford to ignore.”
An additional benefit of the Baron Air Quality Forecast System is its impact on model accuracy.
“We assimilate satellite observations of air pollutants, and that information actually gets into the modeling system,” said McHenry. “It results in perpetual improvement of model accuracy. So whenever you are using any component of the Baron Air Quality Forecast System, you know you’re always working from the latest intelligence available.”
Baron is particularly excited about the potential to help people avoid air pollution health effects through improving the official forecasts issued by agencies like Lacke’s. “Baron has always been a company committed to saving lives and property, and this fits right in with the company mission,” said McHenry.