EPA Releases Initial Results from Air Monitoring Networks in Hurricane-Affected Areas

On Nov. 14, EPA announced that additional air monitoring data for New Orleans is available on EPA's hurricane response Web site. New concentrations reported for metals and volatile organic compounds in New Orleans continue to be below health-based screening levels, the agency stated.

The monitoring results announced by the agency also include the first results of outdoor sampling for asbestos in New Orleans. Asbestos was not detected in the air samples collected in New Orleans for dates ranging from Oct. 9 to 23 at nine monitoring locations.

On Nov. 9, EPA announced air monitoring data that included results from samples collected at three Louisiana sites on Oct. 9 to 11 and six Mississippi sites, collected Oct. 7 to 19. The agency compared the particle pollution measurements to the Air Quality Index, EPA's index for reporting daily air quality. For other pollutants reported, EPA, in consultation with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), has developed health-based screening levels based on one year of exposure -- the period of time the agency expects hurricane recovery activities to continue. These screening levels are drawn from ATSDR's intermediate minimal risk levels (for up to 1-year exposure), and similar EPA values for those pollutants for which minimal risk levels are not available.

Levels of most pollutants measured at the nine sites are below the screening levels, the agency stated. These pollutants include: particle pollution, lead and arsenic, most volatile organics compounds (such as benzene), and polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons, which are associated with burning activities.

Two sites showed elevated levels of two volatile organic compounds, and the state of Mississippi and EPA are looking into their potential sources on the dates sampled:

  • At one site near the county health department in Pascagoula, Miss., samples showed levels of formaldehyde on Oct. 18 and 19 that were much higher than levels detected on Oct. 7, 11 and 12 -- the first levels at this site available for comparison. EPA has continued to monitor in these communities, and a review of preliminary data collected on more recent dates indicates that formaldehyde concentrations are returning to lower levels.
  • A monitor located at the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi measured levels of acrolein on Oct. 17 and 19 that were much higher than levels measured beginning on Oct. 7 -- the first levels at this site available for comparison. Preliminary acrolein levels continue to fluctuate between undetected and elevated above the screening levels.

While reported concentrations of formaldehyde and acrolein were above EPA's health-based screening levels for exposures of one year, they were well below federal emergency management levels for short-term exposures ranging from 10 minutes to 8 hours, according to the agency. At the concentrations measured, however, temporary irritation of the eyes, nose and throat could have resulted. While such exposures would not be acceptable on a regular basis extended over weeks at a time, isolated exposures to such concentrations are not believed to be associated with long-term health problems, agency officials stated.

This article originally appeared in the 11/01/2005 issue of Environmental Protection.

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