BENICIA -- Air pollution's blowin' in the wind, but so, say organizers, is the fate of a community air-monitoring program tied to the Valero oil refinery.
The pledged web-based monitoring system has been in the making for four years, but now appears in limbo as Valero, city officials and residents wrestle with logistical and funding concerns.
Challenges include identifying who'll be responsible for the system once it's running, as well as deciding what its public-access website should look like. Both city and Valero officials are wary of alarming the public with complex data that could be misrepresented, or misunderstood.
"There has been quite a bit of concern about what is going to happen once this is released to the public," said Don Gamiles, president of Argos Scientific, a Portland, Ore.-based environmental resources company Valero hired to help with the project.
The various monitors sample the air for key chemicals found in ambient air in urban environments -- those associated with refineries, auto traffic and other commercial and industrial polluters. The monitors can recognize chemicals at very low concentrations, in "parts per billion."
"When a number is detected, who do you want to present it to the public?" Gamiles said. "What if a very high number shows up? Who do you call? These are questions that are of great concern to Valero and the city."
Argos worked on a similar public project in Rodeo in the 1990s, tied to the ConocoPhillips Rodeo refinery. It detects and reports short-term local air-quality events, in real time on the Internet.
Getting Benicia's project off the ground has been more challenging, Gamiles said. One reason is the oversight committee -- the Valero Community Advisory Panel -- meets just four times a year. Also, concerns have been raised about the website's content.
The Benicia Community Air Monitoring Project's draft website includes a "resources" section that tells about the chemicals being sampled, their health effects and exposure risks. However, characterizing the public health risk of certain pollutants is potentially confusing -- given the different state and federal exposure standards.
Another issue is that raw data on the website may include faulty information due to downtime for instrument calibration, maintenance or other technical anomalies. For that reason, the draft website warns visitors against using it as an official source of warnings or advisories.
Benicia City Manager Brad Kilger hasn't been closely involved with the project, and wouldn't elaborate on city concerns. But he has told the advisory panel that any launching should include a plan for ongoing education and addressing public concerns.
"The station should not go live until it can be assured that the information will be accurate and the public can understand it," Kilger said. "That would be true of any type of technology."
Read the entire article by Tony Burchyns in the Times-Herald by clicking here.