The US EPA announced on Monday that a notice of violation, or NOV, of the Clean Air Act was issued to Volkswagen. The EPA states that the model years 2009-2015 Volkswagen and Audi vehicles (4-cylinder diesels) included software that allowed the cars to evade some emissions standards.
Cynthia Giles, the Assistant Administrator for the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, stated, “Working closely with the California Air Resources Board, EPA is committed to making sure that all automakers play by the same rules. EPA will continue to investigate these very serious matters.”
The NOV explains that these vehicles had software that turns on "full emissions control" only during automotive emissions testing and not during everyday use. This allowed the cars to pass the test but to emit NOx (nitrogen oxides) at up to 40 times the permitted allowance. The EPA defines this as a "defeat device" as it was designed specifically to evade testing.
This follows a 1.1 million dollar fine that Volkswagen paid back in 2005 when they failed to report the defect oxygen sensor that affected 199-2001 vehicles. These vehicles produced "thousands of tons of harmful pollutants including nonmethane hydrocarbons (NMHC) and carbon monoxide (CO). NMHC are key reactants in the production of ozone, a major contributor to cancer-causing smog." (Volkswagen of America, Inc., Agrees to Pay More Than $1 Million for Clean Air Act Violation, Release Date: 06/15/2005)
To read the full NOV, check out the full post on the EPA site.
Hypoxia was in the news recently after a small aircraft went down near Jamaica. After initialing radioing for permission to descend from 25,000 to 20,000 feet due to an indication of an issue, all communication was lost. NORAD tweeted that two F-15s were scrambled to the location and that hypoxia was suspected. The military pilots reported the windows were fogged and the pilot was slumped in his seat, though breathing. The plane continued to fly on autopilot until it crashed north of Jamaica.
Hypoxic conditions can set in as low as 8-10,000 feet, but the symptoms often can go unnoticed until it is too late to react. Military pilots, and more and more civilian pilots, undergo hypoxia training using the Reduced Oxygen Training Device with the hope that these early signs are recognized sooner so corrective actions (descent to 15,000 and taking in supplemental oxygen) can be taken. Check out these past posts (here, here and here), to learn more about the effect that hypoxia has on both military and civilian pilots flying at altitude.
But what causes hypoxia at altitude? Here's a quick look at the science behind hypoxia.
Environment at Altitude - Pressure
Earth's atmosphere encompasses us with a gaseous envelope which rotates with the planet. Commonly, it is said that as you go higher in altitude about the ground, the air is "thin." This implies that there is a change in the composition of the air at altitude, which is not true. The total blend of gaseous components (predominately nitrogen (78%) and oxygen (21%) remains the same. What changes is the number of oxygen molecules per unit volume of air. Why? Because this is directly affected by pressure, which decreases as you go up in altitude. So, while the same percent of oxygen is in the air, the actual value is highly lower. A simple analogy would be that on the ground 21% oxygen is like 21 red marbles in a cup of blue marbles while at altitude, it is 21 red marbles in a bathtub full of blue marbles.
In addition to the change in pressure, the lower temperature at altitude affects the gases. This effect is not as substantial as that of pressure, but is still important. The heat comes primarily from the heat of the Earth, not the sun. So, the higher up, the cooler it becomes (approximately 2°C for every additional thousand feet of altitude).
Science 101 - Gas Laws
A quick refresher of the main gas laws that will come into play.
Dalton's Law - With constant temperature and pressure, the sum of the component gas pressures in a gas mixture will be equal to the total pressure of the mixture. So, for our situation, since the percentage of oxygen in the atmosphere is 21%, we can calculate the partial pressure of oxygen at any altitude. This is key since the partial pressure of oxygen available plays a critical role in determining the onset and severity of hypoxia.
Graham's Law - A gas at high pressure exerts a force on a region of lower pressure. This can be simplified if you think of it as an attempt to reach an equilibrium. If there is a permeable or semi-permeable membrane between two gases, and gas will move from the area of higher pressure to the area of lower pressure until equilibrium is reached. All gases act this way and they do so independently in part of a gas mixture. It's possible (and actually probably) to gases in a mixture moving in opposite directions across the same membrane. In terms of the human body, this occurs to transfer oxygen in cells and tissues.
The Human Body at Altitude
What does all of that mean in terms of an actual human in a plane at altitude? Good question!
At sea level, the air that we breathe is at a pressure of 760 mm Hg, with the partial pressure of oxygen being 160 mm Hg (think of Dalton's Law, 21% of 760 mm Hg). By the time the oxygen gets to the lung, we are down to about 14% (106.4 mm Hg) oxygen and an increase concentration of carbon dioxide at a pressure of 41.8 mm Hg. After sending the oxygen rich blood out to the rest of the body, the returning blood carries oxygen at only 40 mm Hg. As we determined from Graham's Law, the oxygen will move from the higher pressure in the lung into the blood, where it is low while the carbon dioxide will move in the opposite direction. This cycle (breath in oxygen rich air, oxygen in the lung moves into the oxygen depleted blood, carbon dioxide moves out of blood, breathe out carbon dioxide rich air) continues with each breath.
And at altitude?
Well, at sea level, the pressure differences that allow the transfer of oxygen are sufficient to cause the blood leaving the lungs to be almost totally (97%) saturated with oxygen. Move up to the top of Pike's Peak (about 14,500 feet) the oxygen saturation drops with the pressure to about 80% and symptoms of altitude sickness appear with any prolonged exposure. At 25,000 feet, the partial pressure of oxygen in the lung is 14% of 281.8 mm Hg or 39.5 mm Hg. This is LOWER than the pressure of oxygen in the blood returning to the lung. The transfer of oxygen is therefore interrupted, and a body in this circumstance will quickly lose consciousness. In between these two altitudes, symptoms from mild vision issues to serious disorientation are seen.
At Environics, all of our units are custom built for our customers' specific needs. Customers who need to dilute/mix explosive gases often come to us for help creating highly specialized systems. Most often, this is in order to calibrate gas detectors or for research or calibration purposes. To meet these unique needs, Environics designed a modified version of our Series 4040 gas dilution system which included a dual chassis design.
The electronics enclosure includes the power supply and PC boards for controlling the Mass Flow Controllers (MFC) and direct acting solenoid valves in the second enclosure. The electronics enclosure connects to a computer via a 9 pin serial port connector and cable. The 4040 software, on the computer, communicates with the microcomputer board inside the electronics enclosure.
The second enclosure is sealed and houses the MFCs, valves and components to support the enclosure purge. A continuous purge flows through the enclosure while it is running. This serves two purposes. The first is to carry out heat built up by the internal components. The second is to dilute any potential leaks that may develop. The gas plumbing inside this enclosure was vacuum leak tested to 1X10-8 ATM CC/SEC He.
In addition to continuous purge flow, the enclosure is pressurized to approximately 5” H20 while running the enclosure purge. This provides and indicator that the purge is activated as well as preventing any air leaks into the enclosure from outside. A safety vent was added to vent the enclosure to atmosphere if the pressure inside the enclosure reaches 20” H20. This could happen if for some reason the purge vent becomes blocked or the pressure on the purge rotameter is too high.
The two enclosures are connected electrically via two control cables labeled MFCs and VALVES. An earth ground wire is connected from the electronics chassis to the aluminum mounting plate inside the purged enclosure. This safely discharges any static electricity that can build up in a system with flow.
Have a similar need or need help with another unique set of conditions? You can contact us at (860) 872-1111 or here for more information.
explosive gas mixing,
custom gas mixing system
On June 2, following an announcement by President Obama, the US EPA presented the Clean Power Plan, "a commonsense plan to cut carbon pollution from power plant" with the stated goal of maintaining "an affordable, reliable energy system" while reducing pollutants that are harmful to people as well as the environment."
Throughout the US, power plant emissions account for roughly one-third of greenhouse gas emissions. Currently, there are no national guidelines to limit carbon pollution levels, though the levels of other toxins, including arsenic, mercury, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particles, are restricted. In the US, CO2 emissions account for 82% of all green house gas emisions, according to data reported by the EPA from 1990-2012.
Although the mandate is set at the federal level, the guidelines give states the ability to establish their own internal goals and to design a program based on their specific needs and capabilities. These plans must be submitted to the EPA by June 2016. Each state's plan must have enforceable limits, and must include how the levels will be reported and monitored. There must also be a method for corrective actions for those who fall short. The EPA will require biannual reporting of the state's progress.
Once the plan is accepted, states have to reach interim goals by 2020 and have until 2030 to meet the final goal of a 30% decrease in carbon emissions from the levels reported in 2005. To put that in perspective, that is equal to the emissions from powering 65 million homes, roughly half of the homes in America.
In addition to the 30% reduction in carbon emissions, the Clean Power Plan will also result in the reduction of particle pollution, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide by more than 25 percent. Consumers should also benefit from a roughly 8 percent decrease in their electric bills due to increased energy efficiency and reduced demand in the electricity system.
To read the plan or to learn more, visit the US EPA's Clean Power Plan site. Public Hearings are to be held during the last week of July.
Share your thoughts on the new plan below.
As most of you know, last week marked the last day for our long-time Service Manager, Paul. After 22 years with Environics, he is moving and starting a new chapter in his life. We will all miss him and wish him the very best!
With service on our minds, I bring to you today a few of the more commonly asked questions from our customers. If you have a question, you can always reach us via our website, email or by phone.
My system locked up. What should I do?
I replaced the system batteries and now I see odd characters on the screen. Help!
In both of these cases, the system needs to be reinitialized to factory settings using the system configuration data provided with the system. Tech Bulletin 104 outlines how to proceed. If you've misplaced your system's data, you can request a copy online.
I'm not getting flow but I can hear the solenoids clicking on. What should I do?
The instrument's configuration data may be corrupted. Tech Bulletin 107 will walk you through how to confirm the calibration data is in error and show you how to restore it.
SERIES 6100 OR 9100
I want to recalibrate my ozone generator. What should I do?
If you are interested in doing this calibration and have the necessary equipment, Tech Bulletin 106 (9100) and Tech Bulletin 114 (6100) will guide you step by step through the process. Be sure to read through all of the notes on preparing the system prior to calibration.
As a US-based company, we are often asked where we ship internationally. Both direct and through distributors and reps, we sell worldwide.
Here is a map of the locations our units have shipped from us over the past few years (the blue pointers are our distributors).
Are you using an Environics system in a location that isn't marked? Let us know so we can add you to the map!
We are quickly approaching what is commonly known as "ozone season" in the US. This is the time of year where agencies shift into high gear of monitor, record and report the levels of ozone as well as other pollutants.
Many of our customers have been getting their ambient monitor calibration systems calibrated and tuned-up to be ready to begin the season. If you still need your system serviced for this ozone season, please let us know ASAP as the calendar is filling fast!
Check out this post from last year regarding the EPA’s new ozone reporting site. It’s a great way to check the conditions in your area.
On June 30, 2013, the US Environmental Protection Agency released a revision to the Air Emissions Reporting Rule (AERR). The rule states the goal of the revisions is to "reduce reporting burden for state, local and tribal agencies, improve consistency and clarity with other rules, and better reflect current inventory technologies and practices."
The AERR was first published in 2008 as a replacement to the previous Consolidated Emissions Reporting Rule (CERR), which was published in 2002. Both regulations were created to improve the ability of the EPA to gather emissions data on a national level. The data is used to create a national inventory of air pollutant emissions. You can see this data in use and search for the conditions in your area at the EPA's MY Environment.
The improved AERR aims to grant states more flexibility on how to collect and report this emissions data. These increased permissions give the state programs the ability to operate more efficiently. To find out more visit the EPA's AERR page.
Ambient Air calibration,
ambient air calibrator,
zero air generator,
In a recent speech, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry stated that climate change is one of the most serious issues facing our world today and that he considers it "the greatest challenge of our generation." Following his visit to China last week, Kerry focused back on the State of the Union address by U.S. President Barack Obama, stating climate change is an undeniable fact. China, the top producer of greenhouse gas emissions, and the US will share "information and policies so that we can help develop plans to deal with the U.N. climate change negotiation that takes place in Paris next year."
The condition of the air in China has long been a source of concern, brought to the forefront during the Olympic games in Beijing in 2008. According to the World Health Organization, approximately 65%-70% of China's energy sources comes from coal and China is second only to the United States as an energy producer. The Chinese government revised air quality standards which will progressively require cities to meet the restrictions by 2015. The standard includes 8-hour standards for ambient air monitoring of ozone (O3) and particulate matter (PM) 2.5, which are considered "fine" particulates that are the most harmful. As of 2013, two thirds of cities do not yet conform to the new standard. Studies by the WHO and others show that a million Chinese die every year due to the effects of interior and exterior air pollution.
In response to the lack of willingness of the Chinese government to share detailed information, the U.S. embassy in Beijing began posting air quality measurements gathered at the embassy in real time, both on its website and through a twitter account (@BeijingAir). Chinese officials had disputed the American data, however Chinese citizens and environmental groups continued to press for data to be gathered and shared. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy visited one of the most affected cities, Shanghai, back in December. China is looking for help as the heavy pollution threatens to turn away foreign investors. McCarthy discussed shale development and the use of natural gas to reduce pollutants.
It appears that the concern of the long term effects on not addressing pollution is beginning to instigate change. Just this month, Beijing has ordered 15,000 factories to begin providing data regarding their emissions to the public in real-time. Also, China's Cabinet announced $1.6 billion in incentives has been set aside for companies that are making strides to cut their emissions. At the same time, the official Xinhua News Agency said 300 polluting factories were slated to be shut down in Beijing during 2014.
Although these are excellent first steps, it will take international collaboration to clear the air because pollution wafts in from the surrounding regions.
image source: Shanghai Rela Time Air Quality (2/17/2014 1:55 PM EST), http://www.semc.gov.cn/aqi/home/English.aspx
Ambient Air calibration,
Check out this recent article regarding the use of the Reduced Oxygen Breathing Device in preparing US Air Force Airmen for the "Worse Case Scenario." The Environics Reduced Oxygen Breathing Device 2 (or ROBD2) plays a key role in that training.
The ROBD2 is manufactured solely by Environics and is a computerized gas-blending system which uses mass flow controllers to precisely generate hypoxic breathing conditions without affecting atmospheric pressure. Airmen, both pilots and crew, undergo training on the ROBD2 to prepare them for the signs and symptoms of hypoxia that they might feel and to practice the appropriate emergency procedures when that occurs.
Staff Sgt. Vikas Kumar, 92nd Aerospace Medicine Squadron aerospace and operational physiology NCO in charge of training at Fairchild Air Force base stated, "The ROBD2 is what we use here in place of the hypobaric chamber. There are several advantages to using this system. Not only is it much cheaper to maintain than a chamber, it's a lot less taxing on the body because it doesn't have any atmospheric pressure change involved, making it possible to fly a jet right after if needed, unlike using the chamber, you have a 12-hour restriction."
Check out this video and learn more on the use of the ROBD2 by the Air Force.
Thermal Mass Flow Controllers,
Recently, the US EPA released their final proposal to update the new source performance standards (NSPS) for new woodstoves and heaters, and to add NSPS for the first time for pellet stoves, furnaces, hydronic heaters, and masonry heaters. The measures, if approved, would take effect in 2015. The report states, "Emissions from wood stoves occur near ground level in residential communities across the country, and setting these new requirements for cleaner stoves into the future will result in substantial reductions in exposure and improved public health."
Wood heaters release smoke which increases the levels of various pollutants into the air. These include volatile organic compounds (VOCs), carbon monoxide and particles (soot), all of which cause serious health concerns. Those at greatest threat are children, the elderly and those with breathing conditions such as allergies, asthma, emphysema or other lung diseases.
The proposal states that the tighter regulation will mean heaters burn 80% cleaner than those on the market today. Consumers will see cost savings due to lower fuel consumption and in projected health cost savings. The total benefits are estimated to be $1.8 to $2.4 billion annually.The proposal is open for comment for 90 days and a public hearing is scheduled for Feb. 26, 2014. To read the proposal, visit the EPA's website.
While these regulations aim to improve air quality in the US, scientists in India are striving to improve the conditions in India. In 2012, India was ranked as having the worst air quality of the countries studied and in 2013 they ranked second to last. Outdoor air pollution led to approx. 165,000 deaths in 2008 (up from ~141,000 in 2004) while internal air pollution claimed ~500,000 in 2004 according to World Health Organization figures.
The largest single source of these pollutants is the traditional cooking stoves, known as chullas. One can find a chulla, which burns wood, remains of crops or dung, in more than 100 million Indian households. A high level of smoke is generated due to poor fuel consumption. The stoves use a great deal of fuel and the required cook times are long. Since the cooking is done in the home, the poor indoor air quality effects women and children, who spend more time in the home, the most. Scientists compared daily use of the traditional chulla to smoking 40 cigarettes a day.
In addition, the environmental impact is high due both to the high consumption of wood as a fuel and the output of toxic smoke.
Development of a move efficient stove aims to help. These stoves, sold under the name Annapurna. In Hinduism, Annapurna is the goddess of food and cooking, and in Sanskrit, the name Anna means “food” and purna means “filled completely.”
The Annapurna stoves have better combustion, require less fuel and cook more quickly, all leading to reduced pollution. These stoves can run on electricity or can be set up to use a solar charged battery. The efficiency of the stove comes from the addition of a small fan that draws air into the combustion chamber. The manufacturer had the stove tested by accredited laboratories and saw a 50% decrease in fuel needs, a 70% decrease in smoke and a 50% decrease in cooking time. Small changes such as this will make a large impact in the effort to improve air quality throughout India.
To see a news story about this technology, check out this video from The Time of India.
State of the Air,