New device measures air quality

August 04, 2001 12:00 am

By The Observer

A small box that holds a large amount of electronic information has become the latest piece of equipment to help measure air pollution in the Grande Ronde Valley.

Named a data ram, the box sits on a shelf in an outbuilding at the Ag Services Center, but the staff at the Smoke Management Center in Imbler has easy access to its data via a computer and modem.

The $10,000 data ram has been loaned to Union Countys smoke management program by the Forest Service, and Environmental Protection Agency grants will help pay for the computer software necessary to read the numbers.

John Szymoniak of the Forest Service was instrumental in having the equipment loaned. He said the device continuously measures the amount of smaller pollution particulates (pm 2.5) in the air. Its so new that the smoke management staff will have to determine how high the numbers can go before the pollution becomes a problem.

In Idaho, that number is 100, Szymoniak said. But youll have to determine what is safe and satisfactory for this area.

Using a pump, the data ram pulls in air from outside and measures it through a series of strobes. The air moves through a heater to remove excess moisture.

The data ram is the latest of several new methods implemented this year to monitor smoke from agricultural burns. The Oregon Department of Agriculture is providing a weather forecast that provides not only basic temperature and wind information, it gives a detailed overview of the upper atmospheric patterns and direction of weather fronts.

Darrin Walenta, Oregon State University extension agent, said the new weather forecasting has been invaluable.