USEPA Scientists at Work: Measuring Roadway Pollutants

Narration: Highway traffic is a major source
of air pollution and a health concern for millions who live near major roadways. To
protect those who live, work and play near roads, EPA researchers are studying highway
pollutants to help protect the air we breathe. Dr. Gayle Hagler: Traffic is known to emit
thousands and thousands of different types of pollutants into the air. This research
study was trying to understand what air pollution levels are when you are in very close proximity
to a major roadway. Dr. Gayle Hagler: The impact of our research
results on studying near-road air pollution – those are directly feeding into model development,
transportation planning, transportation and air quality policies. Narration: Dr. Hagler drives an ‘air-sniffing’
car outfitted with computers, air monitors and other sophisticated technology to learn
more about what’s in the air along major roadways. Dr. Gayle Hagler (b-roll): Following these
trucks … see that big red dot? (laughs). This is ultrafine particles. This is, yea,
they’re so small, you wouldn’t be able to see it with your eye. Dr. Gayle Hagler: What basically happens is
there’s a small inlet that’s pulling air from the outside, and it’s basically vacuuming
it into the car. And then we have about four or five different air monitoring instruments
inside the car that are measuring carbon monoxide and then, a number of different properties
about particles that are in the air. Dr. Gayle Hagler: We’re also measuring location
with a GPS, so we have an antenna on top of the car that’s giving us very accurate location.
And then, all of this information is feeding into an onboard computer.
Narration: The results are fed into air quality models used to regulate and manage air quality
and provide data to study the health impacts of air pollution. Some results point to ways
to reduce exposure. Dr. Gayle Hagler: We saw that consistently
a solid noise structure, such as a noise barrier, will lead to lower concentrations, about 50
percent lower, when you are right downwind of a roadway.
Narration: Dr. Hagler, who received a prestigious Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists
and Engineers, now finds reminders of her research whenever she gets into her car.
Dr. Gayle Hagler: One way that it’s affected me personally is now I can’t drive down
a highway without thinking about work. There’s part of my brain that’s always on and scanning
and looking for: ‘Oh! That would be a good place to take measurements.’
Narrator: EPA scientists are at work to protect public health and the environment.

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