Keeping Huntsville healthy: City launches air monitoring station

single-meta-cal September 25, 2020

It should come as no surprise that the City of Huntsville has had air pollution standards for nearly six decades.

When we were building rockets to put man into space and onto the moon, we were also making sure the air here was healthy.

Before the Environmental Protection Agency.

Before the Alabama Department of Environmental Management.

“Huntsville has been on the front edge for a long time,” said Scott Cardno, the city’s Director of Natural Resources.

“Being more environmentally friendly is the right thing to do,” said Mayor Tommy Battle. “Whether through recycling and anti-litter programs or tree preservation and air quality control, we must take steps to protect our most precious resources, build a more sustainable future and improve quality of life for the citizens we serve.”

Air Pollution Monitoring Station

Cardno’s department is charged with administering Huntsville’s Air Pollution Control, Blasting Control and Noise Control Programs. Natural Resources coordinates city compliance with EPA storm water regulations, enforces Huntsville’s Storm Water Quality Ordinance, and conducts initial investigations of possible surface water quality problems.

In addition, Natural Resources provides environmental support to City agencies, including performance of asbestos inspections, Phase I Environmental Site Assessments and facility environmental audits.

Now, the City has a new state-of-the-art, 2,500-square-foot Air Pollution Monitoring Station at John Hunt Park. It replaces the current, much-smaller building there and complements a station on Capshaw Road. The station also accommodates increased monitoring space for a growing Huntsville population.

We’re pretty fortunate we’ve got clean air. Our air quality is really good. Our pollutant concentrations are below all of the standards set by the EPA.”

“When I started, our office was at the old airport terminal building (on Airport Road) and air monitoring was located in a trailer out back,” said Cardno, who has been with the department for some 30 years. “Around 2000, the first building at John Hunt Park was built.”

The new station has labs for weighing filters, space for monitoring instruments and office and storage space.

“The old building is strictly air monitoring,” Cardno said. “Everything is combined at the new facility. We have labs to do sample analysis and storage space.”

Previously, the staff collected samples at the old building and had to go downtown to do the analysis.

“The monitoring staff will be spending more time at John Hunt Park,” he said. “They will likely be spending about 50 to 75 percent of their time there.

“This (new center) is a time saver, a travel saver.”

The daily air quality index data are recorded electronically and sent to ADEM and, an EPA website.

Huntsville Air Quality

As with other municipalities, Huntsville follows standards set by the Clean Air Act and the EPA. The National Ambient Air Quality Standards are for pollutants that are common in outdoor air, considered harmful to public health and the environment, and that come from numerous and diverse sources.

The statute established two types of national air quality standards: primary standards and secondary standards. Six criteria pollutants are particle pollution, ozone, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and lead.

“We’re pretty fortunate we’ve got clean air,” Cardno said. “Our air quality is really good. Our pollutant concentrations are below all of the standards set by the EPA.”

He said there are approximately 70 industrial facilities in the City but “we don’t have a lot of heavy industry. We’ve got lots of industry, but it tends to be clean industry.”

Cardno said vehicle traffic is a primary source of air pollution here but the technological advances have helped clean the air.

These advances include emission controls on vehicles and gasoline vapors being reclaimed at the pump “so they’re not vented into the air.” There are some 150 gas stations in the city – all have permits for the required vapor recovery systems.

So, Huntsville, which prides itself on setting standards high, is actually below the standards set by the EPA.

However, that is a good thing.

“That’s exactly what you want,” Cardno said. “We’ve been very fortunate.”