What Is Causing Air Pollution Levels To Go Through The Roof in the Northern U.S.?

Map of air pollution in Northern U.S.

After the release of the Share My Air live pollution map last week, processing air quality data instantly and “seeing” trends has become far easier for those of us who don’t know how to query an air pollution database! As we checked out the live map over the past two days, we noticed a distinct trend. Monitors across the Midwest and Northeast were getting more red in a hurry, meaning their pollution levels were spiking. This was not just a few monitors, it seemed to be every monitor. We looked for an explanation in national or local news, but we could not find any reports on the phenomenon. Are we crazy?

To test whether this is an actual pollution wave hitting many states across the northern U.S., we decided to do a little investigation. We took a random sample of 50 monitors across 10 states (5 per state). States sampled include: MN, WI, IL, IN, MI, OH, PA, NY, NJ, and KY. We looked at daily averages for the past two days (Aug 30, 2015 and Aug 31, 2015) and compared them to daily averages for every other day of the month. What we found was startling, to say the least.

Out of 50 monitors sampled, 40 (80%) experienced their highest daily pollution value for the month over the past 2 days. Considering that this study sampled 10 states, this a quite a land area for pollution to spike simultaneously. This is not a local pollution event in any one place – it is a blanket of pollution covering many communities within these 10 states.

Two questions followed: is anybody reporting on this across the Midwest, Northeast and Mid-Atlantic? We could not find any definitive articles. Also, where is the pollution coming from?

Here is our theory: the wildfires in the Northwest and California release tons of fine particulates into the air. The West experienced their air pollution event last week, but these tiny particulates can stay in the air for weeks. They likely entered the jetstream and began a journey across the rest of the U.S., getting deposited into communities along the way.

What do you think? Is this caused by the wildfires, or something else? Is anybody experiencing the effects of this pollution right now? Has anybody else done a report on this? Let us know! Shoot an email to info@joinvivergy.com, tweet @vivergy and talk to us on Facebook at facebook.com/vivergy. Would love to hear your thoughts!

-The Vivergy Team


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