Air Quality Concerns After the Colonial Pipeline Explosion

by | Nov 2, 2016

Several people have pinged us since Monday with questions about the tragic Colonial Pipeline explosion in Shelby County and if there is any air quality concerns. First of all, our thoughts and prayers are with the family of the man who lost his life as well as those who were injured.

As far as air quality is concerned, there are of course concerns anytime there is a gas leak, much less an explosion of this magnitude. ADEM has said that there was no impact on air quality due to the explosion. However, we did notice a spike in metro Birmingham’s Air Quality Index (AQI) for ozone pollution directly following the explosion on Monday afternoon and evening. It reached orange levels, meaning the air was unhealthy for sensitive groups. (It had been yellow, or moderate, earlier in the day.)

When gas is burned, it releases nitrogen oxides (NOx) — as well as particulate matter, carbon monoxide, and unburned hydrocarbons. Ground-level ozone pollution is an invisible gas that can cause health problems like triggering an asthma attack, coughing fits, difficulty breathing, and general irritation. It is formed by a chemical reaction between NOx and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) with sunlight.

More NOx and VOC in the atmosphere means more ozone pollution — particularly on hot, sunny days like Monday.

We kept an eye on the Air Quality Index throughout the evening Monday and all day Tuesday. The spike in the AQI for ozone was gone by Tuesday morning. There doesn’t appear to be a lingering air quality issue for the greater Birmingham area.

Having said that, the pollutants released when gasoline is burned include hazardous air pollutants, or HAPs, which can be harmful to human health. Anyone near an event like this should be sure to limit inhalation of these toxic gases. Try to stay indoors and avoid opening windows in your home.

Be vigilant of any odors or symptoms of exposure to toxic air pollution. Click here for more information about symptoms of exposure or to tell us if you have concerns in your area.

Finally, we would encourage you to help us raise awareness about air quality. Our Air Quality widget (below) shows the current air quality conditions as well as a forecast for the following day. It can be embedded on other websites, so please feel free to add it to your site and/or to ask your favorite websites to add it.

About Michael Hansen
Michael is Executive Director of GASP. He joined the team in 2013 as communications specialist. He has years of experience and extensive training in the areas of public health and environmental protection. He is a member of the board of directors for the Southeast Climate & Energy Network and Clean Water Fund, as well as a member of the Arm in Arm National Core Support Team. Email Michael
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