Virginia Tech students monitoring area air quality

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 3, 2007

If you’ve seen a white van with a tall antennae sticking out of it, don’t worry, it’s not a spy vehicle.

It is actually a mobile lab from Virginia Tech that is studying air pollution. It’s called the FLAME, which stands for flux lab for the atmospheric measurements of emissions.

The goal is to provide the college with some of the first direct measurements of human generated emissions such as carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide, microscopic matter and volatile organic compounds that form ozone and add to the Greenhouse warming effect.

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“Factories are monitored for emissions by either state or federal regulators,” said Tim Moore, a Virginia Tech graduate student going for his Ph.D. in Civil and Environmental Studies.

He said based on federal documents, they can figure out those emissions easily. Emissions by transporting people or goods are harder to figure out, he said. That’s where the FLAME van comes in.

“We focus more on a neighborhood basis. We know how much AK Steel is putting out, but how much is being produced at the intersection of Ferry and Center streets in Worhtington, Ky.? You have the railroad yards, you have the barge traffic and you have an airport. That isn’t regulated.”

Moore and undergraduate David Daughty have been in the Tri-State taking samples for the project. The reason this area was chosen was that a Tech professor, Steve Cox, is from Worthington.

“It was based on his knowledge of the area and the fact there is a lot of industry,” Moore said.

It is also ideal for measuring diesel emissions from car, truck, and barge traffic.

“It was perfect for us to test out our mobile system to quantify the anthropogenic, or human-generated, emissions that are pretty difficult to measure otherwise,” Moore said.

The idea was to measure emissions on a neighborhood scale.

They were in Ironton at the Center Street Landing on Monday measuring emissions from barges and, on Tuesday, they were across the Ohio River in Worthington measuring emissions from the railroad yards.

Next, they will go to a residential neighborhood without emission sources to use as a control.

Once all the information is gathered, Moore will try to figure out where all the pollution is coming from.

“Once I know where pollution is pinpointed, we can figure who the major contributors are,” Moore said.

The FLAME project will go on for the next three years and cover the Blue Ridge Mountains and Appalachian area from Kentucky to the Washington, D.C. area, which is a 200- to 400-mile drive from the Virginia Tech

campus in Blacksburg, Va.

For more information on the project, go to