Poor air quality is a tell-tale sign of the widespread air pollution that has blanketed our country for several years. With rising concerns about air pollution, federal authorities are now turning to science and technology to develop advanced air quality monitoring systems.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) even implemented ambient air monitoring to monitor and control air pollutants in the surrounding environment. As part of the air quality management system, ambient air monitoring provides valuable information that helps to determine the control strategies to be implemented.

The First Step in the Direction

Understanding the negative impacts of air pollution, the government enacted the Clean Air Act of 1970 (1970 CAA). Subsequent revisions were made in 1977 and 1990 to improve the Act’s efficacy and address new pollution issues. The Clean Air Act is now one of the most influential modern environmental laws in the U.S. and one of the most comprehensive air quality laws in the world.

The Act sought to improve the health of the citizens by establishing air quality standards that would limit emissions from both stationary (industrial) and mobile sources. The six primary pollutants for which standards were established included particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, ozone, and lead.

As per the Act, each state is responsible for establishing a network of air monitoring stations known as State and Local Air Monitoring Stations (SLAMS). Every state must submit to the Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards (OAQPS) an annual summary of monitoring results. All SLAMS are part of the National Air Monitoring Stations (NAMS), an additional network of monitors.Environmental Protection Agency

Another monitoring station, known as a Special Purpose Monitor Station (SPMS), has been established to meet specific monitoring needs. Finally, the Photochemical Assessment Monitoring Station (PAMS) was established to monitor ozone precursors.

Some Recent Developments in Air Quality Monitoring Systems

In the past, the EPA monitored pollutant gases using open-path Fourier transform infrared spectrometers (OP-FTIR), ultraviolet differential absorption spectroscopy (UV-DOAS), and open-path tunable diode lasers (TDL). While traditional methods of monitoring air pollutants continue to be useful, many advanced methodologies have emerged.

New instruments, such as optical remote sensing (ORS) instruments, are now being designed and tested to identify pollutants. The ORS instruments are claimed to monitor both gaseous pollutants and airborne particulate matter using the radial plume mapping (RPM) methodology.

The ORS instruments are also used to identify fugitive and area emissions hotspots. The ORS devices were tested and found to characterize emissions from landfills, vehicular exhausts, and urban ambient air. They were even successful in identifying toxic industrial pollutants.

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