NASA Studying Air Quality in Maryland

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Alex DeMetrick has been a general assignment reporter with WJZ...
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BALTIMORE (WJZ)– Traffic on days like this adds to the mix of pollutants we all breathe. But it’s perfect for NASA’s last flight over our area to sample that air pollution.

Alex DeMetrick reports the study might even help reduce it.

For most of July, NASA’s large research aircraft has been cruising the I-95 corridor between D.C. and the Delaware line. On board, instruments and scientists have been sampling and collecting Maryland’s air.

“The aircraft is flying about eight hours over a small area, so we’re really understanding all the parameters that make up air quality,” said NASA researcher Brent Holben.

That includes measurements being taken down at ground level. Because it’s between here and the plane circling above, that air pollution is something of a blind spot. NASA satellites do a good job seeing it higher up, putting low and high together.

“We’ll be better able to understand how to interpret a satellite measurement in a better way of what’s down at nose level,” said NASA researcher Jim Crawford.

And at nose level today, it didn’t take instruments to see elevated pollution.

Hot, humid weather combined with what comes out of tail pipes and smoke stacks, all figure into NASA’s study.

Days like this may be perfect for studying bad air, but it’s not so great for breathing.

“Absolutely,” said Dr. John Bacon from St. Joseph Medical Center. “The code orange days, the code red days, people complain of sinus headaches, congestion and their nose and eyes are burning. And the asthmatics, they’ve had to increase their medicines.”

How that bad air forms, layers and moves is being collected not only from multiple altitudes, but by multiple agencies under NASA’s direction.

“Trying to track it to its source, but probably more importantly, to understand the process that enhance pollution,” Holben said.

Sniff out how that works, and steps could be taken to someday reduce it.

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