More research needed on high air nitrate levels in Yakima Valley

Monitoring air quality in Washington is nothing new to the Washington Department of Ecology.

However, when higher-than-usual nitrate levels were detected in the Yakima area, officials with the agency wanted to take a closer look and understand what was causing the elevated levels.

That led to the Department of Ecology commissioning research by WSU and CWU to determine reasons why there were high nitrate levels in the air.

“We have a responsibility to safeguard the air quality in Washington,” said Jeff Johnston, Ph.D., and an air quality science and engineering manager with the agency. “And although we can’t see it, it affects our health with every breath we take.”

The Department of Ecology monitors air pollutants throughout Washington to ensure federal health-based air quality standards are met.

Air monitoring data show that the Yakima region could risk violating the federal 24-hour fine-particle pollution standard.

When breathed deep into your lungs, fine-particle pollution can lodge and cause structural and chemical changes, agency officials say, noting the particles can also act as carriers for other toxic and cancer-causing materials

“If we ever reach a point where we need to put a plan in place to reduce the air pollution in Yakima, we need a better understanding of the air quality issues,” said Johnston.

The research found that the cause of high nitrate levels is ammonia from agricultural activities interacting with pollution from motor vehicles.

The researchers believe that because of the large amount of ammonia emissions in the region and the complex chemistry involved, reducing levels of nitrate will be difficult.

Those findings will lead to additional research, state officials pledge.

“We’re interested in further research that will help us and our partners at Yakima Regional Clean Air Agency and the Yakama Nation best manage air quality in the region,” said Johnston.

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