Researchers get EPA grant to measure Lewiston air quality

By Michelle Fredrickson, Voiland College of Engineering & Architecture intern

air-monitor-webPULLMAN, Wash. – The Nez Perce Tribe and researchers at Washington State University have received a three-year U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant to measure air pollution in Lewiston, Idaho.

The researchers in WSU’s Laboratory for Atmospheric Research will use a mobile air quality laboratory to measure formaldehyde and other air pollutants and determine their sources during approximately four weeks this summer and next.

Formaldehyde is an airborne pollutant that can cause negative health effects ranging from sore throats and coughs to lung cancer. Formaldehyde can be directly emitted or can form in the atmosphere from reactions of other pollutants to light.

Several years ago, researchers measured high summer formaldehyde concentrations of up to 22 parts per billion in Lewiston. Two students from Northwest Indian College later conducted a summer research project with WSU faculty to determine the sources of formaldehyde in the region.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry suggests evaluating formaldehyde levels when long term exposure to the chemical reaches 8 parts per billion, although exceeding that level does not necessarily indicate a health hazard.

The Idaho Division of Public Health found that although the formaldehyde levels measured in the Lewiston area would not result in adverse health effects, the seasonality and elevated levels of pollution warranted further investigation.

“The levels we found in Lewiston were similar to urban areas, which was surprising because Lewiston is not really an urban area,” said Tom Jobson, professor in WSU’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering who is co-leading the project.

Researchers will monitor downstream and upstream wind flow from Lewiston to determine the pollution’s source.

“Wind flow along rivers can exacerbate an air quality problem or can help mitigate it,” said Shelley Pressley, associate research professor.

Once the study is completed, the community can develop and implement strategies for reduction if the source of elevated pollutants is determined.

The WSU researchers, tribe and state health division also are working with the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality on the project. The $419,000 grant will also support community outreach and education.


Tom Jobson, WSU civil and environmental engineering, 509-335-2692,
Tina Hilding, WSU Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture communications, 509-335-5095,