What do we know about the air we breathe?

by Pam Roberts

Take a deep breath… What is in that air you breathe? We know that Ely’s air is fairly clean from the data received from the Fernberg Air Monitoring Station, a five acre clear cut parcel of land located about 20 miles east of Ely on the Fernberg Road. <BR><BR>In the early ’80s the monitoring equipment used to be set up on the roof top and all around an old trailer. In the early ’90s Navy Sea Bees pulled the trailer out and built the existing insulated shelter which houses some of the monitoring devices. <BR><BR>Different agencies have different samplers and collectors at the site. In the early ’80s people across the US became concerned about acid rain and began to monitor the rain and snow. <BR><BR>The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established the National Atmospheric Deposition Program and rain collectors were set up to monitor for acid rain. Other national air pollution monitoring networks have added equipment: IMPROVE (Interagency Monitoring of Protected Visual Environments) measures for atmospheric contaminants that cause haze which obscures scenery, and National Trend Network (NTN) monitors for mercury in precipitation. <BR><BR>The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has had equipment here and the Canadian Ministry of the Environment - Ontario had monitoring equipment for 5-6 years but when funding ran out they had to discontinue the work. <BR><BR>Each network has its own monitoring equipment and the U.S. Forest Service maintains, operates and checks on the quality of the data. The Forest Service uses all of this data to assess the level of air pollution and to try to predict how it may affect the lakes and forests of the Boundary Waters. Everything that is at the site right now is what you would see anywhere in the nation at an air quality monitoring station. <BR><BR>Air pollution can travel hundreds of miles in a day. It is not air pollution from Ely that is being monitored but the long range transport of atmospheric contaminants and what happens to that air from where it starts and the chemistry change as it gets here. <BR><BR>The mission of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the Nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. <BR><BR>Air pollution can harm sensitive vegetation, acidify lakes and streams and impair the scenic vistas of America’s wildlands. The Boundary Waters is one of 156 National Parks and Forest Service Wilderness Areas that are afforded the highest protection from air pollution by Congress. To protect the Boundary Waters from air pollution, the Superior National Forest monitors the chemistry of the air and precipitation and works with industry and the state in reviewing new sources of air pollution located nearby. <BR><BR> Most people are aware of the fish consumption advisories for many lakes in Minnesota. The majority of mercury in the environment is due to human industrial activities. Over centuries mercury was deposited on the land and we are left with this burden today. <BR><BR>How mercury moves through the environment after it is emitted from a smokestack is not clear and is a subject of intense research. Federal efforts to reduce mercury at plants across the US will improve the situation here since mercury can travel many months in the atmosphere before falling to the ground. <BR><BR>Sulpher emissions also cause a number of problems including: human health problems, visibility degradation, acid rain. Recent research shows that sulphur in precipitation can enhance how much mercury becomes incorporated into fish. <BR><BR>In the U.S., 65% of suphur emissions are from power plants. Federal efforts to control this pollutant at sources across the U.S. will also help the BWCAW. <BR><BR>Most pollutants come from burning fuels. The majority of fuel burning is related to two things: energy generation and transportation. With best estimates, the U.S. will need a 42% increase in electricity by 2020, while at the same time the number of miles traveled by people in the vehicles increases every year, the pressure on air quality is considerable. <BR><BR>Anybody wanting more in depth information or a tour can contact site supervisor Trent Wickman at 218-626-4372 or site Operator Chris Barton at 218-365-7554. <BR><BR>