Air quality: A chance to clear the air

On the weather page, I noticed, our air quality is getting worse. According to readings from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, it has gone from a rating of "good" to a rating of "moderate" with the (particulate matter) at 2.5. Where are the readings taken? What part of the Rogue Valley does it represent? What does the PM reading reflect? What are the main sources of the pollution? And who is responsible for seeing that the polluters are doing what they need to do to keep the air quality healthy?

— Sue H., Medford

Last week's daily air pollution levels were more or less lime green, straddling the low end of "good" (green) and the high end of "moderate" (yellow).

These levels are based on the amount of particulate matter, or PM, 2.5 microns or smaller, floating around in the air. PM 2.5 is the really fine stuff, typically a product of combustion, and more dangerous as it can't necessarily be coughed out. PM 10 is larger — dust, wood shavings, road grime — and not quite so hazardous. (For scale, a piece of human hair measures about PM 70 in diameter.)

Medford's DEQ monitor is near Grant Avenue and Belmont Street, which is a block north of Stewart Avenue and a block west of King Street, in west Medford. That's a spot that tends to have higher concentrations of pollution, as the homes in the area are older and often heated by wood stoves — one of the leading sources of wintertime pollution, explained John Becker, DEQ's regional manager.

Vehicles, open and prescribed burns, industrial sources and stagnant air also contribute to poor air quality during the winter and to last week's "moderate" air quality, Becker said.

As far as finding the polluters, DEQ, along with the Jackson County Environmental Health Department and the city's code enforcement team, follow complaints to discover the source of the pollution.

"Typically we contact the violating party and, depending on the extent, our preferred approach is education so there's not a reoccurrence," Becker said.

To file a complaint with the DEQ, call 1-888-997-7888 after Dec. 1.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@mailtribune.com. We're sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.

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