25 for 25: 25 Plus Years of Progress in Bringing Healthier Air to New Hampshire
By Thomas S. Burack, DES Commissioner
In recognition of the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services’ 25th Anniversary, over the course of the year, I will highlight 25 agency activities, programs, projects and accomplishments of the past 25 years. This article, the eleventh in the series, discusses the history and evolution of air pollution monitoring and control in NH.
The air today in New Hampshire is healthier for us to breathe than it was 25 years ago, thanks in large measure to substantial investments and progress that has been made in monitoring actual pollutant levels and improving the quality of the air that we breathe.
Today, recognizing the importance of clean air and knowing that we can best manage what we can measure, the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (DES) operates a technologically advanced network of air quality monitoring stations strategically located throughout the state to measure levels of air pollutants. There are 14 stations, located across the state, that operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year in order to provide us with vital data on whether the air is healthy to breathe. The state’s long-term commitment to the quality of our air has been a major contributor to protecting New Hampshire’s environment and the public’s health.
Air pollution monitoring began in New Hampshire in 1962 when the US Public Health Service installed the first air monitors in Berlin to study air quality around NH's largest paper making operations. The Air Pollution Control Commission, a precursor agency to the DES, later expanded these efforts. And, the creation of DES brought air quality under the umbrella of a single environmental agency, which allowed for greater cooperation with the other programs addressing pollution in our state.
Perhaps the defining moment in our country in addressing air pollution came with the enactment of the federal Clean Air Act of 1970, which required the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to establish the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for five “criteria pollutants”: carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, sulfur dioxide, and particulate matter. Data obtained from the monitoring network showed that some regions of the state did not meet the standards for sulfur dioxide and particulate matter.
To protect public health, the Clean Air Act required New Hampshire to come up with a plan to reduce air pollution and to establish a permit system. The permit system would put limits on pollution emissions from sources such as electric generating plants and factories to ensure that air quality standards would be met and maintained at the required levels. The plan called for the creation of a monitoring network to record actual levels of these criteria pollutants.
The Clean Air Act was revised again in 1977 and 1990 to address continued national issues associated with pollutant levels that were not meeting the federal health standards, including in significant portions of NH. In response to these requirements NH had to implement new pollution control measures and further expand and refine its air monitoring network to track our progress in meeting clean air standards. Over time, New Hampshire has shown steady improvements in air quality for nearly all pollutants.
DES also conducts meteorological monitoring at many of these sites in order to determine the relationships among weather conditions, how pollution is transported into our state and the behavior of these pollutants. DES, EPA, and other organizations use the monitoring data to determine the status of NH’s air quality, to predict air pollution episodes, to put protective measures and warnings in place, and to protect the natural environment.
DES continues to examine closely where the air pollution that impacts our state originates. We work closely with the transportation and business sectors to ensure proper controls are in place to limit locally generated air pollution. And on a regional basis, we work with other states and the federal government to reduce air pollution that is transported into our state. Most importantly, in many cases we are able to provide real-time information to the public so that proper health precautions can be taken when air pollution levels are of concern.
Our quality of life here in New Hampshire is and will always be inextricably linked to the health of our environment, and clean air is a vital component of a healthy environment. Knowing that DES is constantly monitoring the pollutants in our air and, based on that information, taking steps to provide cleaner air and protect our health should make it possible for all of us to breathe a little easier.
For more information, please visit our web site at www.des.nh.gov.
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