Letter: Air Alerts

Four times this summer, an electronic billboard on Route 9 has warned me of an “air quality alert” and asked me to limit the use of my car.

Gasoline and diesel engines may be the major source of air pollution in Dutchess County.

Another source: the garbage-burning incinerator (“waste-to-energy” facility) on the Hudson River in Poughkeepsie near IBM, which started operating in the late 1980s. In 2016 the facility processed 150,425 tons of Dutchess County solid waste, generating 37,507 MWhs of electricity and recovering 6,382 tons of ferrous metals for recycling. The process also created ash residue — 53,155 tons in 2016 — that is used as landfill daily cover. Assuming the report on the county website mentioned everything, we’re left with about 91,000 tons of stuff. Although it has pollution controls, fumes created by burning that garbage went somewhere else — into the air we breathe.

Emissions from solid-waste burning typically include carbon dioxide, water vapor, carbon monoxide, poisonous oxides of nitrogen, sulfur dioxin, hydrochloric acid, sulfuric acid, hydrogen cyanide, cadmium, lead, chromium and formaldehyde.

Similar deadly emissions also come from two petroleum-fired electric generating plants directly across the Hudson from Wappinger. Even more will come from the soon-to-be-operational Competitive Power Ventures methane-powered electric plant in Middletown, and in a few years from the Cricket Valley methane-powered plant in Dover Plains.

Enjoy your cheap gas and fossil-fuel generated electricity, folks; just don’t breathe deeply.

Charles Davenport, Wappingers Falls


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One thought on “Letter: Air Alerts

  1. The oxides of nitrogen and sulfur emitted in the exhaust of automobile engines (and other small engines such as those used for cutting grass and trees, used in power boats, etc.) are converted to nitric and nitrous acid, to sulfuric and sulfurous acids, respectively, in the presence of water and sunlight. This in other words means on sunny days in the summer when the sun is highest in the sky, the sunlight reaching the grown is strongest, and when the humidity in the air is high.

    Ground level Ozone, another dangerous pollutant, is also created partly from the emissions of these engines (again, automobile engines being the most prominent) via the ultraviolet frequency component of the sunlight.

    These pollutants tend to be created over the coarse of the day and accumulate to reach maximum concentration levels in the early evening – making the air most polluted late in the afternoons and in the early evenings. The pollutions (and many others I can’t go into in this space) needless to say are deleterious, in their own unique ways, to the health of all humans, particularly those with impaired respiratory systems – and probably of all mammals as well as for many trees and plants.

    The billboards probably also are intended to alert people when the air in the region is unusually stagnant, a condition which makes it more difficult for these pollutants to disperse and to reduce their concentrations in the air to safer levels.

    Slowly over the last year or so we have learned of falsified auto emissions schemes by a few of the major German car manufacturers. This resulted in higher than assumed (I. e., under the previous but now discredited assumption that the data and the statements of the car makers were accurate) auto pollution emissions on a per-car basis. Each automobile therefore produced a greater amount of pollution than was previously calculated on a regional basis.

    In fact we don’t really know how widespread this emissions data cheating was, is, or may be, other than apparently it was done with an eye towards making automobiles more marketable on the basis of higher-than-otherwise-possible ratios of horsepower to gas mileage and horsepower to the amount of pollution emissions.

    I haven’t mentioned the closely related, separate but perhaps even greater dangers of particles of microscopic soot suspended in the air, known by their technical terms as PM 2.5 and PM 10, which are, in this region, emitted -primarily by diesel engines and by coal- and petroleum-fired electricity generating power plants.

    On the other hand, at this time many inhabited parts of the planet have far greater air pollution levels than the Mid Hudson Valley.