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Club sponsors air quality monitors


A screenshot of a map linked to monitors that show local air quality on the website. Grand Coulee is at lower right; darker areas at upper left show worse air near Twisp forest fires.

New air-quality monitors are working in the Grand Coulee Dam area with results accessible by anyone online, thanks to an initiative of the Grand Coulee Dam Rotary Club.

Using sensors purchased from PurpleAir, the club has so far put up one sensor, which complements another that member Bob Valen bought for his own home last winter. At least one more is planned for the area.

Valen, who writes The Star's monthly weather column, found several years ago that the state's Dept. of Ecology air quality online map showed a "lack of monitoring in a huge area around us," Valen said.

It still does, and that isn't likely to change, according to officials Valen contacted, who said there wasn't enough money in their budgets.

Even with smoke from wildfires over the last several years settling in for long periods of time, the state's network - which does include monitors in Omak, Wellpinit, Chelan and Moses Lake - leaves this area unmonitored. There are five in Spokane.

"I'm glad our Rotary club made the investment," Valen said, noting the open network of "citizen scientists" being developed by PurpleAir can provide relative data to fill in the gap.

PurpleAir has sold more than 2,300 sensors worldwide, with at least 15 now showing in North Central Washington alone.

The small sensors that sell for $229 only require mounting on the side of a building, a power outlet and a Wi-Fi connection. They measure particles in the air using lasers. Think of watching dust particles in a sunbeam, but these particles are only 0.3 to 10 micrometers (millionths of a meter) wide.

The monitors upload the data to the company's servers and display on its website every 80 seconds, giving anyone interested a good look at a measurement of the quality of the air they are breathing.

Lately, it hasn't been good in the local area, owing to fires in other places.

Early Tuesday morning, Grand Coulee showed an Air Quality Index reading of 172, in the "unhealthy" range. The upper Twisp River area, where the Cougar Creek Fire has burned more than 6,000 acres, measured over 400, in the upper "hazardous" range.

Tuesday afternoon, the sensors on The Star and on Valen's home in the Lakeview Terrace area read nearly the same, at under 160, but they often differ considerably as the region's microclimates get air from different directions. At the same time, Seattle showed a range from 29 to 53.

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