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The Most Important Pollutants in 2014

In my previous 3 posts, I have noted that in most Missouri counties air quality improved from 2013 to 2014: the percentage of unhealthy air quality days decreased, and the percentage of good air quality days increased. However, the Air Quality Index is a measure that combines the level of pollution from six criterion pollutants: ozone (O3), sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrous oxide (NO2), carbon monoxide (CO), particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5), and particulate matter between 2.5 and 10 micrometers (PM10). For a brief discussion of these pollutants, see Air Quality Update 2014.

Data source: Environmental Protection Agency Air Quality Index Report

Data source: Environmental Protection Agency Air Quality Index Report

The chart at right shows the percentage of days for which each of the criterion pollutants was the most important one. The chart combines all 20 counties together. In 2014, as in 2013, ozone was the most important pollutant, followed by small particles (PM2.5). One or the other of these two pollutants was the most important on 87% of all days statewide.

Thirty years ago, ozone was a much less important pollutant than it is now. In 1983, it was the most important pollutant on fewer than 30% of the days statewide. It is now the most important pollutant on about half the time (49% in 2014, 51% in 2013). While we need ozone in the upper atmosphere to shield us from ultraviolet radiation, at ground level it is a strongly corrosive gas that is harmful to plants and animals (including us humans). We don’t emit it directly into the air. Rather, it is created when nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds (think vapor from gasoline and other similar liquids) react in the presence of sunlight. These pollutants are emitted into the atmosphere by industrial facilities, electric power plants, and motor vehicles.

The second most important pollutant was PM2.5 (38% of the time in 2014, 35% in 2013). These tiny particles were not recognized as dangerous until relatively recently, though now they are thought to be the most deadly form of air pollution. I can’t find anything that says so specifically, but I believe their zero readings in 1983 and 1993 means that PM2.5 wasn’t being measured in Missouri, not that it wasn’t a significant pollutant back then. The EPA significantly tightened its regulations for PM2.5 a couple of years ago, and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources is in the midst of deploying a program to come into compliance with the new standards. Road vehicles, industrial emissions, power plants, and fires are important sources of PM2.5.

Sulphur dioxide used to be by far the most important pollutant. While it has not been eliminated and was still the most important pollutant on some days, good progress has been made on reducing SO2 emissions (48% of the time in 1983, 8% in 2014). For the role of SO2 in background air pollution, see this post.

In Jackson County, the county with more unhealthy air days than any other, the most important pollutant in 2014 was PM2.5. It was most important on 200 days, while sulphur dioxide was most important on 97. In St. Louis City, the county with the second most unhealthy air days, the most important pollutant was also PM2.5. It was most important on 251 days, while ozone was most important on 54.

Don’t forget that the chart at right does not show the levels of the six pollutants, it only shows the number of days on which each was the most important. As previous posts have clearly shown, air quality is better. As we have reduced some types of air pollution, apparently, other types have become more important.

I’ll offer some summary conclusions about this air quality data and climb on my soapbox briefly in the next post.

Sources:

Environmental Protection Agency. Air Quality Index Report. This is a data portal operated by the EPA. Data for 2014, Missouri, and grouped by County downloaded on 11/6/2015 from http://www.epa.gov/airdata/ad_rep_aqi.html.

Few Unhealthy Air Days in Most Counties

Data source: Environmental Protection Agency

Data source: Environmental Protection Agency

It is one thing to ask whether a county’s air quality is good, and another to ask if it is so bad that it is unhealthy. The previous post focused on good air quality days. This post focuses on the percentage of days with unhealthy air quality.

I looked at data from the EPA’s Air Quality System Data Mart for 20 Missouri counties. The data covered the years 2003-2014, plus the years 1983 and 1993 for a longer term perspective. For a fuller discussion of air quality and the data used for this post, and a map of the 20 counties, see my post Air Quality Update 2014.

The EPA data distinguishes 4 levels of unhealthy air: Unhealthy for Sensitive Individuals, Unhealthy, Very Unhealthy, and Hazardous.

Data source: Environmental Protection Agency

Data source: Environmental Protection Agency

No Missouri county is reported to have Very Unhealthy or Hazardous air quality for any of the years I studied. The graphs on the right show the percent of monitored days for which air quality was either Unhealthy for Sensitive Individuals, or Unhealthy. The first chart shows a group of counties along the Mississippi River north or south of St. Louis. The second chart shows a group of counties in the Kansas City-St. Joseph region. The third chart shows a group of widely dispersed counties outside of the other two areas.

(Click on chart for larger view).

The percentage of unhealthy air days was 2% or below for all Missouri counties except one: Jackson County (the location of Kansas City). There were no unhealthy air days at all in 15 of the 20 counties.

Data source: Environmental Protection Agency

Data source: Environmental Protection Agency

The percentage of unhealthy air quality days increased in only two counties: Jackson County and the City of St. Louis.

The percentage of unhealthy air quality days was 14% in Jackson County, making it by far the worst performer in the state. No other county had more than 2%. This is the second year in a row that Jackson County has had the most unhealthy air days, and since 2011 the trend has been upward.

It is heartening, and good for the lungs too, that only one county in Missouri had a significant fraction of days on which the air quality was unhealthy. The state clearly has improved its air quality. It is equally clear, however, that in Missouri’s two largest metropolitan areas, air quality is not yet good on the majority of days.

Sources:

Environmental Protection Agency. Air Quality Index Report. This is a data portal operated by the EPA. Data for 2014, Missouri, and grouped by County downloaded on 11/6/2015 from http://www.epa.gov/airdata/ad_rep_aqi.html.

2014 Air Quality Improved in Some Counties

Data source: Environmental Protection Agency

Data source: Environmental Protection Agency

Air quality in 12 of 20 counties in Missouri improved in 2014 compared to 2013, while air quality in 5 declined, and air quality in 3 counties was unchanged. The data come from the Air Quality System Data Mart maintained by the EPA , which contains data on the air quality of a number of Missouri counties going back to the early 1980s. For a fuller discussion of air quality and the data maintained by the EPA, or for a map of the counties, see my previous post.

The graphs at right show the percent of monitored days on which the Air Quality Index was in the Good Range. The top graph is for a group of counties along the Mississippi River, the middle one is for a group of counties in the Kansas City-St. Joseph region, and the bottom one is for a widely scattered group of counties in neither of the other two groups.

Data source: Environmental Protection Agency

Data source: Environmental Protection Agency

First, the percentage of good air days increased in 12 out of the 20 counties. Most of the improvements were small, but the percentage of good air days increased 14% in Jefferson County, 8% in Clinton County, and 7% in Iron County.

On the other hand, 5 counties experienced a lower percentage of good air days. In Cass County the percentage of good air days decreased by 18%, and in Stoddard County, it decreased by 15%.

The results are variable across counties and across regions. Thus, I suspect that the causes may relate to local factors in each county. For instance, the results in Jefferson County may relate to the closure of the Doe Run lead smelter.

I suspect that both electricity consumption and vehicle miles driven increased in Missouri during 2014, however data is not yet available, so I can’t test my hunch. Both contribute to poor air quality, so if they did increase, then the improvement in air quality in the majority of counties would be all the more impressive.

Data source: Environmental Protection Agency

Data source: Environmental Protection Agency

Second, in some Missouri counties the percentage of good air quality days was quite high in 2014. In the Mississippi River group, Lincoln and Perry Counties tied for the highest percentage of good air days, with 93%. In the Kansas City-St. Joseph group, it was Clinton County with 94%. In the Other group, Monroe, Iron, Boone, and Taney Counties all had good air day percentages at or above 95%.

Third, as in 2013, the City of St. Louis had the lowest percentage of good air days of any county in Missouri: 48%. That should be no surprise given its history in the annals of air pollution (see previous post). Fewer than half of the measured days in St. Louis City had good air quality, and the fact that the number did not improve is troubling. The only other county giving St. Louis a contest for lowest percentage of good air days was Jackson County, the location of Kansas City, with 52%.

Over a longer term, the chart for the Mississippi counties is somewhat encouraging. The lines start pretty low for some of those counties, but have a clear upward trend. The chart for the Other counties is also encouraging. The lines start pretty high, and most have an upward trend. The chart for the Kansas City-St. Joseph counties is more equivocal, however. Air quality in most of these counties has declined since 1983. Some appear to have begun to recover, but only Clinton County has air quality equal to or better than in 1983.

Source:

Environmental Protection Agency. Air Quality Index Report. This is a data portal operated by the EPA. Data for 2014, Missouri, and grouped by County downloaded on 11/6/2015 from http://www.epa.gov/airdata/ad_rep_aqi.html.

Air Quality Update 2014

Each year I write a series of posts concerning air quality in Missouri. This post begins a series to update the information with data from 2014.

Missouri has a notorious role in the annals of air quality. On November 28, 1939, a temperature inversion trapped pollutants in St. Louis; a thick cloud of dark smoke blanketed the city, blotting out the sun. The day came to be known as “Black Tuesday,” and it was one of the worst air quality events in recorded history. The photos are shocking; to see them, search on Google Images for “Black Tuesday St. Louis.”

Since then, many steps have been taken to reduce air pollution, and air quality has improved dramatically. However, 2012 saw a decrease in good air quality days across the state, and an increase in unhealthy air quality days. Was that just a one time event, or has the trend continued?

Since the 1980s the EPA has gathered air quality data from cities and counties in Missouri and maintained it in a national database. The following posts look at data from 2003-2014. In addition, to give a longer term perspective, they include data for 1983 and 1993.

AQI Counties 2014

Counties in Missouri for which air quality data is collected. Source: My modification of a map published by the U.S. Census Bureau.

This year I look at 20 counties in Missouri, the same ones as last year. Though the EPA data includes 2 more counties, measuring began in them only recently, thus, meaningful trends over time cannot be inferred. A map showing the locations of the 20 counties is at right. They can be gathered into three groups: a group along the Mississippi River, a group in the Kansas City-St. Joseph Area, and a widely dispersed group that does not fall into either of the other two groups.

The EPA constructs an air quality index based on measurements of 6 criterion pollutants: particulates smaller than 2.5 micrometers particulates between 2.5 and 10 micrometers, ozone, carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide, and sulphur dioxide.

Particulates are tiny particles of matter that float around in the atmosphere. When we breathe, we inhale them, and if there are too many of them, they cause lung damage. There are 2 sizes: inhalable coarse particles have diameters between 2.5 and 10.0 micrometers, while fine particles have diameters less than 2.5 micrometers.

Illustration: a PM2.5 particle is about 1/30 the diameter of a human hair.

Illustration: a PM2.5 particle is about 1/30 the diameter of a human hair.

How small is that? The diameter of a human hair is about 70 micrometers, so they are roughly 1/30 the width of a human hair. Recent evidence suggests that fine particles cause serious health problems; they get deep into the lungs, sometimes even getting into the bloodstream. (EPA 2015)

Ozone is a highly corrosive form of oxygen. High in the atmosphere, we need ozone in order to absorb ultra-violet radiation. But at ground levels, it is corrosive to plants and animals, and too much of it can cause lung damage.

Sulphur dioxide smells like rotten eggs. Too much of it causes lung damage, and it also reacts with water vapor in the atmosphere to form sulphuric acid, one of the main ingredients of acid rain. A series of posts I wrote on background air pollution shows that background levels of sulphur dioxide have decreased over the last 30 years. However, concentrations of it can still build up and affect public health near emission sources.

Nitrous oxide is corrosive and reacts with ozone and sunlight to form smog. It is also one of the main causes of acid rain. Background levels in the atmosphere have decreased, but it, too, can build up locally near emission sources.

The biggest sources of air pollution are power plants, industrial facilities, and cars. These tend to concentrate in urban areas, but air quality can be a concern anywhere; some of Missouri’s air quality monitoring stations are located near rural lead smelters, for instance. In addition, weather plays an important role in air quality. On some days, weather patterns allow pollution to disperse, but on others they trap it, causing air quality to worsen. Hot, sunny summer days are of particular concern, although unhealthy air quality can happen any time. Black Tuesday was in November, after all.

The EPA has established maximum levels of each pollutant, and reports the number of days on which there are violations. The EPA also combines the pollutants into an overall Air Quality Index, or AQI, in order to represent the overall healthfulness of the air. The AQI is a number, but it does not have an obvious meaning. Suppose the median AQI is 75 – what does that mean? So the EPA has created six broad AQI ranges: Good, Moderate, Unhealthy for Sensitive Individuals, Unhealthy, Very Unhealthy, and Hazardous. EPA reports a yearly AQI number and the number of days in which the AQI falls in each range.

In the following posts, I will update Missouri’s AQI, then the specific pollutants that seem to cause repeated problems.

Sources:

Environmental Protection Agency. Air Quality Index Report. This is a data portal operated by the EPA. Data for 2014, Missouri, and grouped by County downloaded on 11/6/2015 from http://www.epa.gov/airdata/ad_rep_aqi.html.

Environmental Protection Agency. 2015. Particulate Matter: Basic Information. Web page last updated 9/10/15. Viewed 11/6/15 at http://www3.epa.gov/airquality/particlepollution/basic.html.

Wikipedia. 1939 St. Louis Smog. Web page last modified 9/25/15. Viewed 11/6/15 at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1939_St._Louis_smog.

Missouri Has Made Dramatic Air Quality Progress, but Still Has Work to Do

The last four posts have looked at air quality data for 20 Missouri counties for the years 2003-2013, plus 1983 and 1993 for a longer term perspective. They clearly show that Missouri has made dramatic progress in improving its air quality, but that more work remains to be done.

Most Missouri counties never had > 20% of unhealthy air days, only four did. Three of them, St. Louis City, St. Louis County, and Iron County, have cut the number to less than a quarter of its maximum value. The other, Jefferson County, has cut the number of unhealthy air days by more than half. The county with the highest percentage of unhealthy air days in 2013 was Jackson County, the location of Kansas City, at 11%. Across the state, in all of the regions I studied, the percentage of unhealthy air days is down.

In two of the three regions I studied, the Mississippi Region and the Other Region, the number of good air days is up significantly. Only in the Kansas City-St. Joseph Region has the percentage of good air days declined. It would be really interesting to know why unhealthy air days have declined in the Kansas City-St. Joseph Region, yet good air days have also declined.

A soapbox moment:

I regard good air to breath as a basic human right. It goes right in there with “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” How can you live, be free, and pursue happiness if you don’t have good air to breathe? I very well understand that our air will never be pristine, for there are too many natural phenomena that put gases and particulates into it (like forest fires and wind-blown dust). But none of us should have to live with asthma or chronic lung disease simply because others of us pollute and refuse to clean up our act.

If one takes a very long term perspective, it must be acknowledged that air pollution was not monitored reliably prior to the 1980s. However, the photos from Black Tuesday in 1939 show that St. Louis, at least, has come a very long way indeed. That is very good news for us all. The success our nation has achieved improving local air quality and background air pollution offer hope that we can successfully address other important environmental problems, if only we will.

End of soapbox moment.

Sources:

The data reviewed in this post comes from the previous four posts in this blog, Update on Missouri Air Quality, Air Quality Improves in 2013, Unhealthy Air Days Down from 2012, and Ozone and PM2.5 Are Our Most Important Air Pollutants

Ozone and PM2.5 Are Our Most Important Air Pollutants

In my previous 3 posts, I have noted that Missouri’s air quality seems to have improved from 2012 to 2013: the percentage of unhealthy air quality days decreased, and the percentage of good air quality days increased. However, the Air Quality Index is a measure that combines the level of pollution from six criterion pollutants: ozone (O3), sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrous oxide (NO2), carbon monoxide (CO), particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5), and particulate matter between 2.5 and 10 micrometers (PM10). For a brief discussion of these pollutants, see Update on Missouri Air Quality.

The importance of each pollutant varies between counties. For instance, in 2013 the main pollutant in St. Charles County was ozone on all 214 days for which air quality was measured. In Buchanan County, however, PM2.5 was the most important on 353 of 359 days measured, and PM10 was most important on the remaining six.

Pollutants Chart 1983-2013The chart at right shows the percentage of days for which each of the criterion pollutants was the most important one. The chart combines all 20 counties together.

Thirty years ago, ozone was a much less important pollutant than it is now. In 1983, it was the most important pollutant on fewer than 30% of the days statewide. It is now the most important pollutant on more than 50% of days, the most important pollutant of all. While we need ozone in the upper atmosphere to shield us from ultraviolet radiation, at ground level it is a strongly corrosive gas that is harmful to plants and animals (including us humans). We don’t emit it directly into the air. Rather, it is created when nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds (think vapor from gasoline and other similar liquids) react in the presence of sunlight. These chemicals are emitted into the atmosphere by industrial facilities, electric power plants, and motor vehicles.

The second most important pollutant is PM2.5. These tiny particles were not recognized as dangerous until relatively recently, though now they are thought to be the most deadly form of air pollution. I can’t find anything that says so specifically, but I believe their zero readings in 1983 and 1993 means that PM2.5 wasn’t yet being measured in Missouri. The EPA significantly tightened its regulations for PM2.5 a couple of years ago, and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources is in the midst of deploying a program to come into compliance with the new standards. Road vehicles, industrial emissions, power plants, and fires are important sources of PM2.5.

Sulphur dioxide used to be by far the most important pollutant, however good progress has been made on reducing SO2 emissions. For the role of SO2 in background air pollution, see this post.

Don’t forget that the chart at right does not show the levels of the six pollutants, it only shows the number of days on which each was the most important. As previous posts have clearly shown, air quality is better.

I’ll offer some summary conclusions about this air quality data and climb on my soapbox briefly in the next post.

 

Source:

Air Quality Index Report, http://www.epa.gov/airdata.

Update on Missouri Air Quality

In May 2013 I wrote a 4-post series on air quality in Missouri, with data through 2012. This post begins a series to update the information with statistics from 2013.

Missouri has a notorious role in the annals of air quality. On November 28, 1939, a temperature inversion trapped pollutants in St. Louis; a thick could of dark smoke blanketed the city, blotting out the sun. The day came to be known as “Black Tuesday,” and it was one of the worst air quality events in recorded history. The photos are shocking; to see them, search on Google Images for “black tuesday St. Louis.”

Since then, many steps have been taken to reduce air pollution, and air quality has improved dramatically. However, 2012 saw a decrease in good air quality days across the state, and an increase in unhealthy air quality days. Was that just a one time event, or has the trend continued?

I haven’t been able to find a report that summarizes air quality for the state. Since the 1980s, however, the EPA has gathered air quality data from cities and counties in Missouri and maintained it in a national database. I downloaded data for each year 2003-2013. In addition, to give a longer term perspective, I downloaded data for 1983 and 1993.

I looked at 19 Missouri counties last year. This year I’ve added Greene County, the location of Springfield, for a total of 20. A map showing their locations is at right. They can be gathered into three groups: a group along the Mississippi River, a group in the Kansas City-St. Joseph Area, and a widely dispersed group that does not fall into either of the other two groups.

The EPA constructs an air quality index based on measurements of 6 criterion pollutants: particulates smaller than 2.5 micrometers particulates between 2.5 and 10 micrometers, ozone, carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide, and sulphur dioxide. Particulates are tiny particles of matter that float around in the atmosphere. When we breathe, we inhale them, and if there are too many of them, they cause lung damage. The small ones are the most dangerous.

Ozone is a highly corrosive form of oxygen. High in the atmosphere, we need ozone in order to absorb ultra-violet radiation. But at ground levels, it is corrosive to plants and animals, and too much of it can cause lung damage.

Sulphur dioxide smells like rotten eggs. Too much of it causes lung damage, and it also reacts with water vapor in the atmosphere to form sulphuric acid, one of the main ingredients of acid rain. A series of posts I wrote on background air pollution (here) shows that background levels of sulphur dioxide have decreased over the last 30 years. However, concentrations of it can still build up and affect public health near emission sources.

Nitrous oxide is corrosive and reacts with ozone and sunlight to form smog. It is also one of the main causes of acid rain. Background levels in the atmosphere have decreased, but it, too, can build up locally near emission sources.

The biggest sources of air pollution are power plants, industrial facilities, and cars. These tend to concentrate in urban areas, but air quality can be a concern anywhere; some of Missouri’s air quality monitoring stations are located near rural lead smelters, for instance. In addition, weather plays an important role in air quality. On some days, weather patterns allow pollution to disperse, but on others they trap it, causing air quality to worsen. Hot, sunny summer days are of particular concern, although unhealthy air quality can happen any time. Black Tuesday was in November, after all.

The EPA has established maximum levels of each pollutant, and reports the number of days on which there are violations. The EPA also combines the pollutants into an overall Air Quality Index, or AQI, in order to represent the overall healthfulness of the air. The AQI is a number, but it does not have an obvious meaning. Suppose the median AQI is 75 – what does that mean? So the EPA has created six broad AQI ranges: Good, Moderate, Unhealthy for Sensitive Individuals, Unhealthy, Very Unhealthy, and Hazardous. EPS reports a yearly AQI number and the number of days in which the AQI falls in each range.

In the following posts, I will update Missouri’s AQI, then the specific pollutants that seem to cause repeated problems.

Sources:

1939 St. Louis Smog, Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1939_St._Louis_smog.

Air Quality Index Report, http://wwwepagov/airdata.

EPA. What Are the Six Common Air Pollutants? http://www.epa.gov/airquality/urbanair.

 

Missouri Tornados Up by 70% in 2013

2001-2010-stateavgtornadoesIn 2013 the number of tornadoes in Missouri increased by 70%, and the number of severe tornadoes tripled. It sounds dramatic, but it may be just part of the normal variability involving these terrible storms. I published my initial analysis of tornadoes nationally and in Missouri a year ago with data from 1950-2012. This post updates the information with data from 2013. Look here for my first post, which contains background information about tornadoes.

Missouri has a significant history with tornadoes. Over the last 10 year, Texas led the nation in the average number of tornadoes per year (142), with Kansas second (116), and Missouri third (61). The first map at right shows the data.

(Click on map for larger view.)

1991-2010-tornadoes-per10k-perstateTexas, Kansas, and Missouri are geographically large states, however. The second map at right shows the average number of tornadoes per 10 sq.km. of land area for each state for 1991-2010. Kansas is first ( it was second in the data I looked at last year). Florida is second (it was first last year). Some other states surprisingly high on this list include Maryland and South Carolina.

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Missouri is also one of only two states with 8 or more tornado deaths per year over the last 10 years. The third map at right shows the data.

2001-2010-stateavgfatalsTennessee leads the nation in this sad statistic with 10, Missouri is second with 8, and the states tied for third have half as many as we do. Missouri has been hit by 3 of the 10 deadliest tornadoes in history. The damage caused by a tornado depends not only on the size of the tornado, but also whether it hits a populated area, whether it hits when people are awake and able to take shelter, and whether buildings are built to withstand the storms. We don’t have statewide building codes in Missouri, consequently there are many buildings that will not withstand a tornado and that have no place of refuge.

The nation had only one EF5 tornado in 2013, the tornado that devastated Moore, Oklahoma, a suburb of Oklahoma City. Initial reports overestimated the number of fatalities, with final estimates putting the number of deaths at 24. This compares favorably to the Joplin tornado, which killed 158. Oklahoma has a state building code.

Missouri’s most severe tornadoes in 2013 were 3 EF3 tornadoes. Two of them hit May 31 and tracked across the St. Louis metropolitan region, causing 2 injuries. The other hit northwest of Sikeston in Southeast Missouri, and tracked eastward through farmland.

Sources:

For the Moore, Oklahoma tornado: I have been unable to find an official casualty count from a government source. Several news sources seem to agree that the count was 24, the number of names on the list of casualties published by the coroner’s office, with many more injured. For a general article on this tornado, see “2013 Moore Tornado,” Wikipedia, viewed 6/27/2014 at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2013_Moore_tornado.

For the Joplin, Missouri tornado, a general article is available at: “2011 Joplin Tornado,” Wikipedia, last viewed 6/27/2014.

For the Harvester and South Roxanna tornadoes of 2013: National Weather Service Weather Forecast Office, St. Louis, MO. Severe Thunderstorms Produce Straight Line Wind Damage and Nine Tornadoes. May 31 2013. Viewed 6/27/2014 at http://www.crh.noaa.gov/lsx/?n=05_31_2013.

Does St. Louis Have a Tornado Alley?

“Does [the St. Louis] metro area have its own tornado alley?” asks a headline in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch? (article by Susan Weich, 7/6/14) The accompanying story notes that the metro area has experienced an increase in tornadoes since 2010, with 6 of them following similar paths through St. Charles and north St. Louis County.

As the story goes on, it becomes clear that it is too early to tell. The meteorologist interviewed, Greg Carbin of the Storm Prediction Center in Norman OK, explains that the year-to-year variability in these storms makes it premature to declare a trend.

The story also notes that the metro area has sprawled, making it a much bigger target for tornadoes to hit. (I’ve published several posts on sprawl – for the lead article in the series, see here.) Advanced radar technology peers into storms and finds tornadoes that used to go unnoticed. And people with cell phones report tornadoes from places where there once was no communication – and they even include pictures!

One hundred years ago, if a tornado touched down in O’Fallon or even Maryland Heights, it might have gone unnoticed. If a farmer saw it, he might have had no way to tell anybody else. Today, it might tear up a mall, get photographed by dozens of people, and have its path tracked in intricate detail by doppler radar.

So the answer is maybe, but it’s too soon to tell. Tornadoes might have a tendency to track through a certain part of the metro area, but it might also just be an unlucky streak for the people who live there.

I noted all these factors in my original series on tornadoes in Missouri last year (for the lead post, see here.) I’ll post an update with tornado information through the end of 2013 soon. And more on sprawl is coming soon, too.

Source:

Weich, Susan. 7/6/14. “Does the metro area have its own tornado alley?” St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Accessed online 7/6/14 at http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/stcharles/does-metro-area-have-its-own-tornado-alley/article_4bd90b14-c7be-560d-ad8c-c66956c1d6c6.html.

Eighty-Four Percent of Missouri Toxic Waste Is “Managed”

Releases by Category ChartIn my previous post I discussed the EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory, and provided a chart showing the total amount of toxic materials released in Missouri for the years 2002-2012.

Toxic materials can be released into the air, they can be discharged into surface water, they can be held in impoundments, they can be injected into wells, and they can be landfilled or spread on the land. The first chart at right shows Missouri toxic releases by category in 2012. The vast amount of releases occur at the site where the toxics are generated (vs. being transported off-site for disposal). Almost 2/3 of the releases involve release into an impoundment of one sort or another. The next largest amount involves emission into the air.

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Managed by CategoryToxics can also be managed by recycling, by energy recovery, by treatment, or by other methods. The second chart at right shows Missouri managed toxic wastes in 2012. The largest amount is recycled for reuse. The next largest amount is treated to make it less toxic.

The total amount of managed toxic waste in Missouri in 2012 was 360 million pounds. The total amount of toxic releases were 70 million pounds. Thus, about 84% of Missouri toxics were managed in some fashion in 2012, while 16% were released. Nationally, about 23.5 billion pounds of toxic waste were managed in 2012 (87% of the total) , while 3.6 billion pounds were released (13% of the total).

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Top Releasing IndustriesThe industries responsible for releasing the largest amounts of toxic chemicals are shown in the third chart. Releases in Missouri are shown as the blue line and should be read on the left vertical axis. Releases in the United States are shown as red bars, and should be read on the right vertical axis. Metal mining is the largest, both in Missouri and nationwide, with more than double the releases of the next largest releasing industry. In Missouri, electric utilities are second, but nationwide it is the chemicals industry. I was surprised to see how much toxic material was released by the food, beverage, and tobacco industry. That it releases more than the petroleum and the plastics & rubber industries blows my mind!

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MO Chemicals ChartThe top 10 toxic chemicals released in Missouri in 2012 are shown in the third chart at right. The top five are all associated with the metal mining industry.

Chemicals that are persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic (PBT) are of most concern to the EPA. Lead accounts for 98% of PBT releases nationwide. Lead emissions are driven by mining activities, and more lead was released in Missouri in 2012 than any other toxic compound. Mercury is also a PBT of concern. Coal burning power plants are the largest source of mercury emissions in the United States. Nationwide, mercury emissions have been falling, from over 140,000 lb. in 2004 to under 80,000 in 2012. It was the 57th most heavily released chemical in Missouri in 2012. Information about all these chemicals can be found on the EPA website or on Wikipedia.

Sources:

Environmental Protection Agency. 2014. Missouri State Fact Sheet, TRI Explorer. http://iaspub.epa.gov/triexplorer/tri_broker_statefs.broker?p_view=STCO&SFS=YES&trilib=TRIQ1&state=MO&year=2012

Environmental Protection Agency. 2014. 2012 Toxics Release Inventory National Analysis Overview. http://www2.epa.gov/toxics-release-inventory-tri-program/2012-tri-national-analysis.

Information on specific industries and specific chemicals releases came from the EPA TRI Explorer data portal. The data was viewed 3/13/14 at http://iaspub.epa.gov/triexplorer/tri_release.chemical.