After several days under a clean air advisory because of fine particle pollution in Southern Wisconsin, county and state authorities are asking area residents to take measures to reduce pollution.
Lisa MacKinnon, coordinator of the Dane County Clean Air Coalition, said the current weather, combined with fine particles released by pollutants such as automobile exhaust, are the primary contributors to the current air quality warnings.
MacKinnon added she was worried the advisory has now been in effect for several days.
“We’re having a particularly stubborn episode right now,” MacKinnon said. “When you have several days in a row, it becomes even more significant because public health impacts become greater.”
A CAC statement asked Dane County residents to use public transportation, walking or bicycles to travel around the area. The report also asked residents to shut off appliances or lights not in use.
MacKinnon said the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has issued a clean air advisory effective until 9 a.m. today, but the DNR also has issued an air quality watch effective all day today. She said it is possible the DNR could extend the advisory past 9 a.m. today.
A DNR statement said the air quality advisory is in effect for 54 Wisconsin counties, including populous counties such as Winnebago, Rock, Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha.
MacKinnon said Dane County is teetering on the brink of federal government regulation because of environmental problems such as the current air quality watch.
While the Environmental Protection Agency has designated Milwaukee and other Milwaukee-area counties as “non-attainment areas,” or areas that do not meet standards, the EPA has not yet given Dane County the non-attainment designation, MacKinnon said.
“We’re really dancing on the edge of non-attainment … it’s a combination of voluntary efforts and the good weather patterns,” MacKinnon said. “But that could change given our traffic and our projected growth.”
MacKinnon said the EPA asks non-attainment areas for a plan to emerge from non-attainment and to go through a more detailed environmental reporting process.
According to the CAC statement, the current air particulate level exceeds the federal standard.
The statement also said over half of Dane County’s air pollutants come from automobile traffic and other gasoline-powered equipment such as leaf blowers or lawnmowers.
The fine particles released are unhealthy because they easily enter the lungs and eventually deposit themselves, potentially causing heart or lung diseases in the future, the statement said.
According MacKinnon, the current type of advisory usually occurs during the winter, but Wisconsin does have the potential for fine particle pollution during other times of the year.
MacKinnon added a high-humidity day during the summer could endanger the air quality just as much as the wet soil and snowfall conditions that have caused the current air quality advisory. She said it is difficult to predict the nature of the watches and advisories in the future.
“It’s not unheard of that we have fine particle pollution at other seasons,” MacKinnon said. “But we don’t control the weather.”