PITTSBURGH, PA - Microscopic airborne particles can
pose health risks for the most susceptible members of the U.S. population,
especially the elderly and others with respiratory impairments. Before
effective strategies can be implemented to reduce these pollutants, scientists
must have a better understanding of where they originate and how they
Now, the U.S. Department of Energy is adding a new project to its efforts
to decipher the chemical and physical "fingerprints" of tiny
airborne particulate matter. The objective is to determine how much coal-fired
power plants contribute to atmospheric levels of these pollutants compared
to other possible sources.
The department, through its fossil energy research program, will provide
Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA, with $3.4 million for a 3-year
project that leverages efforts the university already has underway with
the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Carnegie Mellon and its partners
? the University of Maryland, University of Delaware, and Clarkson University
? will contribute an additional $870,000.
With prior support from EPA, the university is developing an air monitoring
"supersite" on its urban Pittsburgh campus. The Energy Department's
funding will permit the university to enhance the site's analysis capabilities,
permitting scientists to gather more detailed measurements of the chemical
make-up and other properties of the airborne particles.
Researchers will examine the size, surface area, volume, mass distribution
and detailed chemical composition of the particles. They will make continuous
measurements of metals and semi-continuous measurements of aerosol organic
and elemental carbon. The scientists will also gather data on the distribution
and composition of ultrafine aerosols, and they will study the organic
components of single particles, some so small that 30 of them would barely
equal the width of a human hair.
From this information, the scientists hope to determine the extent to
which coal-fired boilers in the Pittsburgh region contribute to particle
levels in the air. Five major sources of the particulate matter, including
coal boilers, will be investigated, along with studies of emissions from
automobiles and trucks.
Modeling studies will also be done to determine how the particulate matter
might be best controlled under various management strategies, especially
applied to coal plants.
The Energy Department's involvement in the project will be coordinated
through its National Energy Technology Laboratory in Morgantown, WV, and