By Joe Smillie
Peninsula Daily News
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“You have good, clean air here,” Fran McNair, executive director of the Olympic Region Clean Air Agency, or ORCAA, told about 25 people at the Sequim-Dungeness Valley Chamber of Commerce luncheon meeting at SunLand Golf & Country Club on Tuesday.
The four monitors measure particulate matter 0.3 microns and larger to gauge ambient air quality.
In Port Angeles, monitors are at Stevens Middle School, the Port Angeles Fire Station and the Port Angeles Library.
In Sequim, one monitor is at the fire station on Fifth Avenue.
The Port Angeles sensors were installed at the end of January. Sequim's was installed March 12.
Data from this spring will be used as a baseline as the agency monitors the additional particulates released into the air from the biomass cogeneration plant upgrade at Nippon Paper Industries USA's plant in Port Angeles.
Nippon officials have said the upgrade is scheduled for a September finish.
Early May spike
Save for a spike in the early part of May, counts for particles stayed well below the unsafe standard of 35 particles per hour.
For the most part, the particle count detected by the monitors this spring has stayed under half of the 35-particles-per-hour danger zone, McNair said.
McNair said officials could not determine why the monitor on the Sequim Fire Station had hourly averages of about 20 particles in the second week of May.
Stagnant air and high use of wood stoves in January and February contributed to elevated readings from the monitors, which are tracked in real time by ORCAA staff.
McNair speculated the elevated count could have come from slash burning alongside U.S. Highway 101 as part of the state Department of Transportation's widening project.
Although it has the power to enforce regulations on outdoor burning of wood waste, ORCAA does not have authority over Transportation, McNair said.
The monitors will sample Clallam County's air for the next year. They are slated to be moved to Jefferson County for 2014, McNair said.
The four devices, each equipped with a $3,500 particulate counter, cost a total of $16,000.
McNair said the agency is seeking funding from the Legislature to have University of Washington researchers install sensors for ultrafine particles, those smaller than measured by current sensors, installed in Clallam and Jefferson counties.
“That would give national significance to what we're trying to do,” she said.
Environmental groups have been fighting the 20-megawatt, $71 million biomass cogeneration expansion project at the Nippon Industries USA mill in Port Angeles and a similar 24-megawatt, $55 million biomass expansion project at Port Townsend Paper Corp.
The biomass facilities will burn forest slash and other woody debris to generate electricity.
Biomass opponents have called for permanent instruments that measure ultrafine particulates 0.1 microns or smaller.
Readings from the air-quality monitors can be seen up-to-date on the ORCAA website at http://tinyurl.com/orcaareadings.
Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Joe Smillie can be reached at 360-681-2390, ext. 5052, or at email@example.com.