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Inside look: How air quality monitoring stations work in San Luis Obispo County

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Posted at 11:41 PM, Sep 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-16 02:41:53-04

Air quality has been on the top of everyone's minds lately, as it's been impacting much of our day to day life.

We took an inside look at how air pollution monitors work to determine bad air quality.

At the Nipomo Mesa Air Monitoring Station, one of nine stations throughout the county, the machines are constantly at work cranking out the latest meteorological data and air quality information.

"The particulates are driven down by a vacuum and they get deposited in on paper roll," Jaime Contreras, Air Quality Specialist for the SLO County Air Quality Pollution Control District, said.

These pollutants are read by a machine down below that can create a quantitative measurement for the particulate.

"So we have a range starting from zero to that goes all the way to 1000. The air quality index (or AQI) has levels to indicate what air quality appropriate to that value. For example, from 0-50 we call it green, it's good," Contreras said.

That means on bad air quality days like Tuesday, those tiny particulate stamps are part of what helps us to be able to check sites like slocleanair.org to confirm if the air quality is good or bad.

"There are three columns under our current conditions: ozone, particulate matter (PM) 10, and PM 2.5. The PM 2.5 is what's been the hot topic lately with all the smoke that's in the air; it's a very very fine particulate," Meghan Field, Air Quality Specialist for the SLO County Air Quality Pollution Control District, said.

While the particulate matter is very small, it can create big issues for your lungs.

"Typically you'll notice some irritation in your lungs, maybe a bit of heaviness in your chest that can go on for a bit, you'll have some uncontrolled coughing, you may have some increased mucus production, noisy breathing - these are all classic symptoms of airway irritation," Stephen Szabo, Director of Cardiopulmonary and Respiratory services for Tenet Health Central Coast, said.