Air Quality in Alexandria
Ozone and Particulate Matter in the City of Alexandria
The EPA classified the Metropolitan Washington, D.C. region (including Alexandria) as a severe non-attainment area for the 1-hour ozone standard. Due to the emergence of new scientific data, EPA enacted the 8-hour ozone standard and designated Alexandria and the DC region as a moderate non-attainment area for the 2007 standard. EPA introduced a new ozone standard in 2008 (0.075ppm) but official attainment/nonattainment designations have not occurred.
The EPA established a particulate matter standard for particles with an aerodynamic diameter of less than 2.5 microns in 1997. These "fine" particles were shown to have increased adverse health effects upon certain segments of the American public, such as children and the elderly. In December 2006, the EPA revised the 24-hour NAAQS for PM2.5 from 65 to 35μg/m3 .On December 7, 2007, VADEQ urged EPA to classify all of Virginia as an attainment area for this standard. In December of 2008, EPA determined that all of Virginia attained the revised 2006 24-hour NAAQS for PM2.5. The 1997 annual PM2.5 standard (15 μg/m3) was attained on January 12, 2009 based on air quality data submitted to EPA for 2004 to 2008.
In an effort to address the region's air quality issues, the City of Alexandria participates in the region's air quality planning efforts for Northern Virginia and the Metropolitan Washington area through the Metropolitan Washington Air Quality Committee (MWAQC) and other committees. Councilwoman Redella S. Pepper is the City's representative at the MWAQC. Mr. William Skrabak, the Deputy Director of the Alex-OEQ, currently serves on the MWAQC Technical Advisory Committee. Erica Bannerman, Senior Environmental Specialist serves as the Chair of the Local Governments Subcommittee.
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Air Quality Pyramid
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Air Quality Action Days
"Air Quality Action Days" is the title for a voluntary public outreach program, sponsored by CLEAN AIR PARTNERS, aimed at changing individual behavior to reduce ozone and particulate matter production. As a participant, you will be notified by 4 p.m. the day before an Air Quality Code Red Day, an unhealthful air day, so that you may make an announcement to your employees to encourage them to use an alternative form of transportation the following day. The notification will be by either e-mail or fax. Employers are asked to inform employees and customers about individual actions they should take to reduce the release of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) nitrogen oxides (NOx), and particulate matter in the 2.5 micron range, especially during the hottest parts of the day. CLEAN AIR PARTNERS members are also encouraged to consider modifying their company operations (such as limiting painting, mowing, etc.) when Air Quality Action Days are in effect. Some participants fly Air Quality Action Day flags at their places of business. Both individuals and employers can sign up to receive Air Quality Action Day alerts by filling out the form at the bottom of this page. There's no cost to become a participant. Sign up today!
What Can I do to Help?
Ground level ozone levels are worse during hot weather. Watch for Air Quality Code Red Alerts on local TV, radio stations, in newspapers and websites similar to this one. You may also obtain real-time ozone levels, courtesy of the City's Ambient Air Quality Monitoring lab. Small steps go a long way in making the difference. The following are a few suggestions for actions that you may take when Air Quality Code Red Alert is in effect:
- Instead of driving, walk, bike, ride DASH and other bus companies in the Northern Virginia region. Visit alexandriava.gov/localmotion for additional information on using public transportation.
- Do not refuel your car until evening or idle unnecessarily.
- Do not mow your lawn until dark or put it off to a cooler day.
- Wait until the weather cools to strip and repaint.
- Combine errands into a single trip.
- Avoid excessive engine idling.
- Keep your car well tuned.
- Use walk-in instead of drive-through line.
- Brown bag your lunch and skip the drive to the restaurant completely.
- Make an Air Quality Code Red Day a day to ride to work in a car pool or with a friend.
- Arrange with your employer to work from home.
- Click here to receive Air Quality Action Day notifications via email or pager.
The City of Alexandria participates in the Air Quality Action Days program to further demonstrate its commitment to clean air. Moreover, the City won the Ozone Action Days Government of the Year Award in 2001.The City is taking many actions to educate the public and City employees about the harmful effects of ground-level ozone and fine particulates. These actions include:
- Distribution of the City Manager's memo commencing the Air Quality Action Days program.
- This section of City's Website.
- A section of the Alexandria Rideshare Website.
- An informational display in Market Square Lobby in City Hall providing printed educational materials and air quality updates
- Partnerships with Alexandria businesses.
- Education of City Businesses: Mailings and information to over 100 businesses about the Council of Government's region-wide Air Quality Action Day program, which employers may post in their office.
- Education of City Hall employees: Distributed copies of educational materials to City employees
- Air Quality Action Day Flag in Market Square: Special Air Quality Action Day flag in Market Square on Code Red Days
- Publish Air Quality Action Days articles in FYI, Alexandria Gazette, LocoMotion newsletter, etc.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q. What is the Difference Between Good Ozone and Bad Ozone?
A. Whether ozone is good or bad depends on where it is found. The ozone that is found within 10 miles of earth's surface (troposphere) is called ground-level ozone and is considered bad ozone. Ground-level ozone is considered an air pollutant and is detrimental to human health, pets, animals and vegetation. It is one of the components of urban smog. The Ozone that is found in stratosphere, between 10 to 30 miles above the earth's surface, is considered good ozone and protects us from ultra violet rays of the sun.
Q. How is Ground Level Ozone Formed?
A. Ground-level ozone (bad ozone) is created by reaction of oxides of nitrogen (NOx) with volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the presence of sunlight. Some ozone is formed naturally because of hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides released from trees, soils, and other natural sources. Additional ozone is produced as a result of the reaction of sunlight with emissions from mobile sources (example: cars, trucks, and automobile etc.), point sources (example: power plants, boilers, and factories etc.), and area sources (example: gas stations, lawn and garden equipment, and evaporating paints etc.).
Q. Why Be Concerned About Bad or Ground Level Ozone?
A. Children and the elderly are most at risk because of ground level ozone. It can aggravate or worsen existing asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, heart disease or other respiratory diseases. Ground-level ozone can cause inflammation or damage to the lining of the lungs. Breathing ozone polluted air causes reduced lung functions up to 20 percent even in healthy adults at higher levels. Ozone can also compromise the body's immune systems making it more susceptible to upper respiratory diseases. Ground level ozone also has economic consequences, such as crop and forest damage, and degradation of various building materials, rubbers, and paints.
Q. What is particulate matter?
A. Particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5) is comprised of solid particles or liquid droplets tiny enough to remain enough to remain suspended in the air. PM emissions can include everything from dust to carbon (soot) and is generated for a variety of sources such a traffic on paved road, diesel combustion, and earth moving activities related to construction and farming. The greatest threat to public health are those particles small enough (PM2.5) to be inhaled into the deepest parts of the lung.
Q. How do particles affect human health?
A. When inhaled, particles can be deposited in the airways or deep in the lungs.Once deposited, particles may be cleared by the body's natural defense mechanisms, they may accumulate on the surface where they deposit, or they may be absorbed into the underlying tissues. Extensive accumulation and deposition can cause inflammation and irritation of the respiratory tract, lower resistance to colds and pneumonia, damage lung tissue and intensify heart and lung disease. The most susceptible are children, seniors, and individuals with respiratory ailments, however individuals of any age can be affected.
Q. What is the State of Virginia doing about Ozone?
A. Visit the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality's Ozone webpage to learn more about ozone monitoring, forecasts, and prevention tips.
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Air Monitoring Stations
The Office of Environmental Quality (OEQ) maintains and operates an Ambient Air Monitoring station at 517 N. St. Asaph Street, Alexandria. Carbon Monoxide (CO), Sulfur Dioxide (SO2), Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2), Particulate Matter (PM10) and Ozone (O3) are measured year round. The City is meeting the standards for all regulated pollutants except for O3.
Cameron Station PM10 Monitoring Station
The City of Alexandria in partnership with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (VADEQ) added an additional monitor to measure the ambient concentrations of PM10 (particulate matter in the 10-micron size or smaller) at Armistead Boothe Park.
What is PM10? - PM10 are tiny drops of liquid or small particles of dust, metals and other materials that remain suspended in the air. These particles are emitted directly from sources such as earth-moving/aggregate operations or can be formed in the atmosphere when gaseous pollutants react together. PM10 particles are approximately 5 to 10 times smaller than a human hair—as illustrated in the picture to the right of the page.
What are the health effects? - When particles in this size range are inhaled, they can travel into your lungs and other parts of the respiratory system. As the particles journey through the respiratory system they stick to the sides of airways or travel deeper into the lungs leaving behind scar tissue. Research has shown that prolonged exposure to elevated levels of particulates can cause inflammation and irritation of the respiratory tract, lower resistance to colds and pneumonia, damage lung tissue and intensify heart and lung disease. The most susceptible are children, seniors, and individuals with respiratory ailments, however individuals of any age can be affected.
What does the numbers mean? - PM10 is reported in micrograms per cubic meter or ug/mg3. The particulate is collected on a filter and weighed. This weight is combined with the known amount of air that passed through the filter to determine the concentration in the air. The 24-hour National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) for PM10 is 150 ug/mg3 and the annual standard is 50 ug/mg3.
What does the data show? - At present, the measured concentrations at the monitoring station do not exceed the NAAQS for PM10. The City’s historical ambient air monitoring data collected within the vicinity of the current monitoring station from 1991 to1996 indicates that particulates were well below NAAQS. In August 2004, the City conducted some limited PM10 monitoring at Cameron Station and the results show compliance with National Ambient Air Quality Standards as well.
The City will perform periodic analyses of the data gathered from the station. Please see Ambient Air Quality Monitoring of Particulate Matter Concentrations Cameron Station, Alexandria, Virginia to view the first of these analysis and monitored values. Additional analysis will be posted in the near future.
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Ambient Air Quality
The Clean Air Act and National Ambient Air Quality Standards
The Clean Air Act (CAA) was implemented by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1970. The CAA requires the EPA to establish National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for airborne pollutants as necessary to protect public health and welfare. The purpose of the CAA is to limit the amount that any given pollutant can be in the air in the United States.
National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Criteria Pollutants
|Carbon monoxide (CO)
|Sulfur dioxide (SO2)
|Nitrogen dioxide (NO2)
||Rolling 3-Month Average
|Ground-Level Ozone (O3)
a Not to be exceeded more than once in a given year at any monitor.
b Not to be exceeded at any monitor.
c Not to be exceeded more than three times in three consecutive years at any monitor.
d The 4th Highest daily concentration each year (averaged over 3 consecutive years) is not to exceed the standard.
Criteria Air Pollutants
There are six "criteria" pollutants classified by the U.S. EPA. A region or jurisdiction is determined to be a "non-attainment area" if one or more of the criteria pollutants exceeds the NAAQS.
Non-attainment areas are subject to more stringent air pollution controls than "attainment" or "unclassified" areas.
Ozone (O3): Ozone is not emitted directly into the air but is formed through complex chemical reactions between precursor emissions of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and oxides of nitrogen (NOx) in the presence of sunlight. These reactions are stimulated by sunlight and temperature so that peak ozone levels typically occur during the warmer seasons of the year. The reactivity of ozone causes health problems because it damages lung tissue, reduces lung function and sensitizes the lungs to other irritants. Non-attainment areas for ozone are further classified as "marginal", "moderate", "serious", "severe", or "extreme", depending on the severity and persistence of the ozone problem.
Carbon Monoxide (CO): Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless and poisonous gas that is produced by the incomplete burning of carbon in fuels. When CO enters the bloodstream, it reduces the delivery of oxygen to the body's organs and tissues. Exposure to elevated CO levels can cause impairment of visual perception, manual dexterity, learning ability and performance of complex tasks. Sources of CO include coal burning plants, automobiles, and other small internal combustion engines.
Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2): Nitrogen dioxide is a brownish, highly reactive gas that is present in all urban atmospheres. It can irritate the lungs, cause bronchitis and pneumonia, and lower resistance to respiratory infections. Nitrogen oxides are a significant ingredient to both ozone and acid rain, and may affect both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. The two major emissions sources are transportation and stationary fuel combustion sources such as electric utilities and industrial boilers.
Sulfur Dioxide (SO2): High concentrations of sulfur dioxide affect breathing and may aggravate existing respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. Sensitive populations include asthmatics, individuals with bronchitis or emphysema, children, and the elderly. Sulfur dioxide is also a primary contributor to acid rain, which causes acidification of lakes and streams, damages trees, crops, historic buildings and statues. In addition, sulfur compounds in the air contribute to visibility impairment in large parts of the country. Sources of sulfur dioxide include coal and oil combustion, steel mills, refineries, pulp and paper mills, and nonferrous smelters.
Particulate Matter (PM 10 & 2.5): Particulate matter is dust, dirt, soot, smoke and liquid droplets directly emitted into the air by sources such as factories, power plants, cars, construction activity, fires, and natural windblown dust. Particles formed in the atmosphere by condensation or the transformation of emitted gasses such as SO2 and VOCs are also considered particulate matter. Effects on humans include breathing and respiratory impairments, aggravation of existing respiratory and cardiovascular disease, alterations in the body's defense systems against foreign materials, damage to lung tissue, carcinogenesis and premature death. Particulate matter is a major cause of visibility impairment.
Particulate Matter equal to or less than 10 microns is monitored by OEQ at the Ambient Air Monitoring Station at N St. Asaph Street and in Cameron Station. Alexandria currently meets the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for this criteria pollutant.
Lead (Pb): Exposure to lead can occur through inhalation of air and ingestion in food, water, soil and dust. Excessive lead exposure can cause seizures, mental retardation, and behavioral disorders. Infants and young children are especially susceptible to low doses of lead. According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination, there has been a 78% decrease in blood lead levels between 1976 and 1980, and from 1988 and 1991. This decline can be attributed to the reduction of leaded gasoline and to the removal of lead from soldered cans.
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Indoor Air Quality
The Virginia Department of Labor and Industry (DOLI) regulates asbestos through enforcement of:
- The Virginia Occupational Safety and Health (VOSH) regulations;
- The Environmental Protection Agency's National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAPS);
- The Asbestos Notification regulations found in the Labor Laws of Virginia (§40.1-51.20).
The City of Alexandria and the Virginia Statewide Building Code requires all buildings constructed prior to 1985 which are slated for renovation or demolition be inspected for the presence of asbestos-containing material and that appropriate response actions be undertaken. Buildings are exempted from this requirement if the exemptions listed in Section 36-99.7 of the Code of Virginia are applicable. Structures where asbestos has been detected that are not exempted may be required to complete and obtain an asbestos abatement permit from Code Enforcement prior to renovation or demolition. Please contact Office of Building and Fire Code Administration at 703.746.4200 to assist with this determination.
The Virginia Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation (DPOR) is responsible for all company and individual licensure in Virginia. Certified asbestos abatement contractors can be found on DPOR's Web site. For more information, please see the Department’s Asbestos Regulations website containing Frequently Asked Questions: Virginia’s Asbestos Regulations.
Exposure to mold can result in allergic reactions, asthma, and other respiratory complaints. Molds produce tiny spores that reproduce. Mold spores float through indoor and outdoor air continually. When mold spores land on a damp spot indoors, they may begin growing and digesting whatever they are growing on in order to survive. There are molds that can grow on wood, paper, carpet, and foods. When excessive moisture or water accumulates indoors, mold growth will often occur, particularly if the moisture problem remains undiscovered or un-addressed. There is no practical way to eliminate all mold and mold spores in the indoor environment; the best way to control indoor mold growth is to control moisture. The City of Alexandria does not have any mold inspectors.
Best Management Practices for Mold Control:
- Control Moisture levels in your house.
- Dry water damaged areas and items within 24-48 hours to prevent mold growth.
- Clean up the mold and get rid of excess water or moisture.
- Fix leaky plumbing or other sources of water.
- Wash mold off hard surfaces with detergent and water, and dry completely.
- Absorbent materials (such as ceiling tiles and carpet) that become moldy should be replaced.
- Do not paint or caulk over mold. It is very important to clean the mold off the wall before painting.
- Consult a professional or a mold specialist.
- Wear gloves, a mask, or a respirator when cleaning mold.
For more information, please visit the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Mold Resources website.
Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless and poisonous gas that is produced by the incomplete burning of carbon in fuels. When CO enters the bloodstream, it reduces the delivery of oxygen to the body's organs and tissues. Exposure to elevated CO levels can cause impairment of visual perception, manual dexterity, learning ability and performance of complex tasks. Indoor sources of CO commonly include fireplaces, work stoves, and gas furnaces.
Best Management Practices for Carbon Monoxide:
- Provide proper ventilation when operating a fireplace, charcoal grill, work stove, or gas furnace.
- Install CO detectors in your residence
- Do not install them in the bathroom; high humidity levels can cause them to malfunction.
- Check the CO detector batteries annually.
- Inspect the heating system annually.
- Check your gas stove to make sure the pilot light is BLUE. A YELLOW pilot light indicates incomplete combustion and the presence of carbon monoxide.
- Never idle your car in the garage, even if the door is open. This can build up dangerous levels of CO that can enter your house.
For more information, please visit the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Carbon Monoxide webpage.
Many houses and apartments built before 1978 have paint contains lead (called lead- based paint). These older buildings can potentially pose serious health hazards by exposure to paint flakes or chips that are introduced into the environment or are attached to dust particles in the air. To protect against this risk, on April 22, 2008, EPA issued a rule requiring the use of lead-safe practices and other actions aimed at preventing lead poisoning. Under the rule, beginning April 22, 2010, contractors performing renovation, repair and painting projects that disturb lead-based paint in homes, child care facilities, and schools built before 1978 must be certified and must follow specific work practices to prevent lead contamination. The program is currently administered by EPA: please call 1-800-424-5323 if you have questions regarding the certification requirements. You may report enforcement issues to EPA Region 3 at 1-215-814-5000. For more information on Lead in homes, please visit the Alexandria Health Department webpage.
Healthy Painting - Paint can contain harmful chemicals and vapors that reside for several days after being applied. Here are some helpful tips for healthy painting:
- Choose a latex-based paint instead of oil-based paints or paints that contain high levels of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs).
- Provide proper ventilation by opening windows or using exhaust fans. Paint fumes can irritate your eyes and cause short-term central nervous system damage, including headaches, nausea, fatigue, and dizziness.
- Keep windows open for at least 48 hours after painting.
- Take frequent breaks to avoid prolonged exposure to paint fumes.
- Wear a mask or a respirator device.
- Keep young children, pregnant women, and elderly persons away from newly painted rooms.
- Properly dispose of your paint. Many paints can be recycled! Only buy what you need to avoid waste.
Outdoor Painting - Many houses and apartments built before 1978 have paint that contains lead (called lead-based paint). Lead from paint, chips, and dust can pose serious health hazards if not taken care of properly. Federal law requires that contractors provide lead information to residents before renovating housing constructed before 1978. According to the Pre-Renovation Education Program (PRE), renovators are required to provide a pamphlet titled "Protect Your Family from Lead in Your Home", before starting work.
Best Management Practices for Outdoor Painting:
- Take precautions before your contractor or you begin remodeling on renovations that disturb painted surfaces (such as scraping off paint or tearing out walls)
- Have the area tested for lead-based paint.
- Do not use a belt-sander, propane torch, heat gun, dry scraper, or dry sandpaper to remove lead-based paint. These actions create large amounts of lead dust and fumes.
- Lead dust can remain in your home long after the work is done.
- Temporarily move your family (especially children and pregnant women) out of the apartment or house until the work is done and the area is properly cleaned. If you can't move your family, at least completely seal off the work area.
- Follow other safety measures to reduce lead hazards. You can find out about other safety measures in the EPA brochure titled "Reducing Lead Hazards When Remodeling Your Home". This brochure explains what to do before, during, and after renovations.
- If you have already completed renovations or remodeling that could have released lead-based paint or dust, get your young children tested and follow the steps outlined to protect your family.
Radon is an invisible, cancer-causing radioactive gas created during the natural breakdown of uranium in rocks and soils. Radon seeps into basements and homes through foundations and enters living areas, where it can be inhaled and brought into contact with lung tissue. Radon decay products also cling to tobacco leaves, which are sticky, during the growing season, and enter the lungs when tobacco is smoked. Smoke in indoor environments also is very effective at picking up radon decay products from the air and making them available for inhalation, putting smokers at a higher risk of radon poisoning than non-smokers, who are more likely to cleanly exhale the radon particles. It is likely that radon decay products contribute significantly to the risk of lung cancer from cigarette smoke.
Radon is not an extensive problem in the City of Alexandria; however, residents are encouraged to purchase Radon testing kits to determine if there is a threat in their homes.
For more information, please see the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Indoor Air- Radon webpage.
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Odors are not specifically regulated by the City of Alexandria. Odors are only enforceable if they regularly occur and are a nuisance. For example, restaurants and other eateries can potentially produce odors. However, these businesses hold special use permits that require odor mitigation.
Blue Plains Wastewater Treatment Plant
The Blue Plains Wastewater Treatment Plant is owned and operated by the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority. It has a capacity of 370 million gallons per day, and is the largest treatment plan in the region. It processes waste water from Washington DC, Virginia, and Maryland. For complaints regarding odor, please visit this website.
ARE (formerly ASA)
Alexandria Renew Enterprises Waste Water Treatment Plant, a 54 µ servicing Alexandria and part of the County of Fairfax. For complaints regarding odor, please visit this website.
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