Upton, NY -- Just how bad is the New York City area's smog problem? To find out, scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory will take to the air throughout July.
In 15 flights at 1,500 feet above the Big Apple, Long Island, Connecticut, New Jersey and Westchester, the team of atmospheric chemists will measure the levels of smog-forming ozone, nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons in the cityÌs air. And what they find may have implications for the regionÌs compliance with the federal Clean Air Act. New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Long Island are currently in violation of that legislationÌs ozone limit.
In the atmosphereÌs upper regions, ozone protects the Earth from the sun's ultraviolet radiation, so the more ozone, the better. But in the lower atmosphere, called the troposphere, there can be too much ozone.
Down here, ozone is an unwelcome pollutant. Produced when emissions from cars, trucks, power plants and industry react in the presence of sunlight, ozone is a troublesome component of smog. It irritates the lungs, eyes and noses of metropolitan-area residents, and aggravates asthma. It also blows easily over state boundaries, making New Jersey's ozone New York's problem, and New York's ozone Connecticut's problem.
The researchers have planned their four-hour flyovers to update what is known about ozone in the New York metro area. Aside from their preliminary work in 1995, the last such flights were in the early 1980s. In a small plane loaded with scientific instruments, they will take air samples that will be analyzed for a dozen different chemicals, among them ozone and many of its ÏhelpersÓ in smog formation.
Scientific instruments have improved tremendously since the 1980s flights, said Brookhaven scientist Peter Daum. "We're starting with a clean piece of paper as far as what's known about the air over the New York region," he said.
The project's sponsor is the Department of Energy (DOE), in coordination with the North American Research Strategy for Tropospheric Ozone (NARSTO), a collaboration of government agencies, universities, industries and utilities from the U.S., Canada and Mexico.
Joining the Brookhaven scientists are researchers from other DOE laboratories and from the State University of New York at Old Westbury. The G-1 aircraft carrying the scientists are their equipment is crewed by experienced flyers from DOEÌs Pacific Northwest Laboratory.
In a parallel effort, the regional nature of the ozone problem in the New York metro area is being addressed by NARSTO Northeast, an organization supported by 50 institutions ranging from the Long Island Lighting Company to the National Park Service, and from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to Mobil Oil.
After the flights have landed, the air-pollution data will be analyzed and deposited into a NARSTO computer database. It will be available to anyone, including the environmental authorities charged with cleaning up the New York metro areaÌs air.
The areaÌs environmental authorities have made some efforts to cut down on the production of air pollutants, including mandating large employers -- such as Brookhaven Lab -- to start carpooling programs that could reduce exhaust fumes from rush-hour traffic. BNL has also cut its nitrogen oxide output by using better fuel in its large boilers.
National emission-control measures for ozone have also been implemented, most visibly in the design of automobile engines. Such steps are seen as necessary because of ozoneÌs long life in the atmosphere and its resulting tendency to disperse in the wind beyond political jurisdictions.
The Brookhaven flights will reveal the contribution that different pollutants make toward forming ozone, an important indicator of whether control efforts thus far have gone after the right culprits. In addition to measuring the concentration of ozone itself, the scientists will measure the concentrations of ozone precursors, such as nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons, and of chemicals produced after ozone is formed, such as hydrogen peroxide and formaldehyde.
Explained Brookhaven scientist Lawrence Kleinman, "These measurements, along with computer calculations, will tell us whether ozone is best controlled by reducing emissions of nitrogen oxides or hydrocarbons, a crucial question for policy makers."
Brookhaven National Laboratory carries out basic and applied
research in the physical, biomedical and environmental sciences
and in selected energy technologies. Brookhaven is operated by
Associated Universities, Inc., a nonprofit research management
organization, under contract with the U.S. Department of Energy.
Note to Editors: The Brookhaven Lab flights will take off from Suffolk County Airport (formerly Gabreski Airport) in Westhampton Beach, Long Island. Because of the size of the plane, reporters will not be able to accompany the scientists on the flights. However, interviews at the airplane hangar can be arranged.