Counting Air Particulate Matter

Researcher: Jarred
Grade: 7
Category: Environmental Science
Centreville Middle School
Centreville, Maryland
1st Place, Environmental Science, Regional Fair, 2001

Abstract
Problem
Background Information
Air Quality Index
Hypothesis
Materials
Procedure
Discussion
Conclusion
Bibliography
 Data
 Graphs

 
 
 
Abstract

    The purpose of my project was to find out whether a rural area or an urban area produces more particulate air pollution. The project also tried to identify which type of habitat within these areas (forest, field, and road) produced more particulate air pollution. To determine this I put microscope slides that were coated with a thin layer of Vaseline out in each of these areas and habitats for 24-hour periods. The particulate matter that settled on the slides stuck to the Vaseline and I was able to count the number of particles under a dissecting microscope.

    The data show that the rural areas sampled received the most particulate air pollution when compared to the urban sites. This was true for all the habitats combined for the rural and urban area and also for each of the habitat types. The data also show that in the rural areas, the forest received the most particulate matter, the field the second most amount, and the road the least. The data for the urban habitats were different. As expected, the road site received the most particulate matter, but the forest received the second highest amount, and the field the least. The urban road habitat received the most particulate matter because of the automobile and truck traffic. But the reason the urban sites in general received the least amount of particulate matter is because most of the pollution produced by automotive vehicles are chemical pollutants and not large enough to be collected or counted with a dissecting microscope. The reason the rural habitats had such a high level of particulate matter is because at the times the samples were run, the corn and soybean harvest was in progress. There is considerable dust, dirt, and plant particle debris that are blown into the air by the combines in the harvest process.
 
 

 


 
 
 
 
 
Problem

Is There More Air Particulate Matter in an Urban or Rural Area?

    I chose the problem "Is there more Air Particulate Matter in an Urban or Rural Area" because I was interested in finding out whether air pollution is different in an urban and rural area. Also, I wanted to find out whether there is a difference in particulate air pollution depending, on the type of community or habitat. I also want to find out if the amount of particulate air pollution in an area is constant over time, or are there other factors that affect it, like weather or human activity.

Air pollution is known to be a health hazard. I was interested in doing an experiment to find out some of the patterns of air pollution.

  • Is there a difference between air pollution in urban areas as compared to more rural areas?
  • In a setting (urban versus rural), is there a difference in air pollution within different communities?
  • Is the quantity of air pollution the same over time or does it vary with temperature, wind, or human activity?
I used a measure of particulate air pollution to answer some of these questions.

 
 
 
 
 
Background Information

    Pollutants are any materials, such as gas, particles, or chemicals that are released into the environment. The class of pollutants that are released into the atmosphere is known as air pollutants and is called air pollution. Air pollution can be in gaseous or particulate forms. Major sources of air pollutants are from the burning of fuels and wastes, factory emissions, automobile exhaust, and cigarette smoke. There are natural sources of air pollution as well. For example, the dust and salt blown from the ocean or the "haze" produced by plants in our large forests are natural forms of air pollution.

    The chief forms of chemical pollutants in air pollution are carbon dioxide (CO2), carbon monoxide (CO), volatile-organic compounds (VOC), nitrogen oxide (NOX), and sulfur oxide (SOX). These chemicals can mix together to form other chemical compounds that are also pollutants. These pollutants can have major effects on humans. Such as, a headache, itchy-red eyes, dizziness, tiredness, trouble breathing, colds, the flu, lung problems, even an increased death rate.

    Another form of air pollution comes from particulate matter. It is called Particulate Air Pollution. This type of air pollution refers to microscopic, air-born particles, that are suspended in the atmosphere. Particulate matter is 10 microns or less in size. This is the same as one half of the width of an average human hair. Most sources of particulate air pollution come from organic sources. But most organic materials are not harmful. Some of the sources of particulate pollution in the atmosphere are from tobacco smoke, wood smoke, burning of coal, logging, earth moving (construction, road building), and diesel-burning vehicles. Even lawn mowers produce small particles when grass and leaves are chopped up and blown out from the mower. Particulate Air Pollution is a human health hazard because it can travel into your lungs and cause a variety of respiratory problems. Children and senior citizens are affected the most. Particulate matter can be cause an increase in emergency room visits, hospitalization, days off of school and work, heart and lung problems, and an increase death rate.

    In addition to human health problems, both chemical and particulate air pollution are prime factors involved with the warming of the earth by the greenhouse effect and the depletion of the earth’s protective ozone layer.

    There are ways we can tell how bad the air pollution is around us. The way we do this is with the "Air Quality Index"
 
 



Air Quality Index

Index

Value

8-hour 

Ozone Levels

Descriptor Color Advisory
0 to50 0.00-0.064 ppm Good Green None
51 to 100 0.065- 0.084 ppm Moderate Yellow Unusually sensitive individuals should limit prolonged outside exertion
101 to150 0.085-0.104 ppm Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups Orange Members of sensitive groups, including children, the elderly, people with lung disease and active adults should limit prolonged outdoor exertion
151 to 200 0.105-0.124 ppm Unhealthy Red Members of sensitive groups should avoid prolonged outdoor exertion; everyone else should limit prolonged outdoor exertion
201 to 250 0.125-0.374 ppm Very Unhealthy Purple Members of sensitive groups should avoid outdoor exertion; everyone else should limit prolonged outdoor exertion
301 and above  Hazardous Maroon Everyone should avoid all outdoor exertion
http://www.lungusa.org/air/air_index.html

 
 
 
 
 
 
Hypothesis

    I believe that there will be more air particulate matter in the urban areas than in the rural areas. From the background reading I learned that most of the sources of particulate matter come from urban areas. Automobiles and industry are the most common sources of particulate air pollution and there are more of both in urban areas as compared to rural areas.

    I also hypothesize that within each area, the three different community types will have different quantities of particulate pollution. The road will have more than the fields, which will have more than the forests (roads > fields > forests). I believe this because there is more activity that produces particulate pollution near a road. In the fields there is air circulation, which will bring in particles but it is not near the sources of pollution. The forest will have the best air quality because the air is still and the tree’s leaves block particles.

 


 
 
 
 
 
MATERIALS
  • 6 or more slides (3in-1in)
  • Permanent marker
  • Ruler
  • 3 sites in an urban area
  • Forest - Millstream Park
  • Field – Millstream Park
  • Road – Railroad Ave.
  • 3 sites in a rural area
  • Forest – Back yard, Deerfield
  • Field – Back yard, Deerfield
  • Road – Coon Box Rd.
  • Vaseline
  • Dissecting microscope

 
 
 
 
Procedure
  1. Choose three similar sites in both an urban and rural area: along a major road, grass covered open area, and forest.
  2. Mark two equal areas (1.5 cm x 1.0 cm = 1.5 cm2) on the back of each slide with a permanent marker. Each 1.5 cm2 area constitutes a sample.
  3. Label one section of the slide A the other B. Make sure that all labeling is on the back of the slide, otherwise the sample areas and the labeling may be mistakenly rubbed off.
  4. Give each slide a number 1-6 and have a key for the area and place where the sample will be taken in. For example: #1-urban field, #2-urban road, etc.
  5. On the opposite side you marked on, apply a thin coating of Vaseline. Rub any excess off the slide to make the Vaseline coating even. (When particulate matter lands on the Vaseline it will stick to the slide.)
  6. In the three different areas lay the slide on a flat surface (fallen tree, block of wood, etc.) and in an open area.
  7. Leave the slides out for 24 hours to collect particulate matter.
  8. Record weather conditions for the 24-hour period; high and low temperature, wind velocity.
  9. Record any peculiar activity that may have occurred in the vicinity of a sample during the 24-hour period.
  10. Collect the samples and place them in a covered container so they are not contaminated with additional particulate material as you leave the site.
  11. Carefully, without smearing the Vaseline, take each slide and put them under a dissecting microscope.
  12. Under the microscope count the particulate matter in each of the 1.5 cm2 sample sections and record your observations.
  13. Repeat this procedure a minimum of three times per site.

 
 
 
 
Discussion

    My data show that there is more air pollution particles in the rural areas as compared to the urban areas (Table 1). When all of the samples in all of the communities were averaged together, the total particles for the rural areas averaged 153.40 particles/1.5 cm2 and the urban average was 134.07 particles/1.5 cm2 (Fig. 1). Looking at all the data from each one of the 3 trial taken, in every case the rural areas had a higher number of particles than when compared to the urban areas (Fig. 2). In the three trials the particles in the rural area were 445.5, 459.5, and 475.5 particles/1.5 cm2 and the three urban trials were 348.0, 424.5, and 453.0 particles/1.5 cm2 (Table 1). These findings are completely opposite my hypothesis where I thought that there would be less particulate pollution in the rural areas as compared to the urban areas.

    I think that there are several reasons why my experiment produced these results. First, the samples were taken during the period of mid October to mid November. This was the finishing of the corn harvest and during the soybean harvest. Harvesting crops with a combine produces lots of dust and chopped up plants that are blown in the air. I think these particles were what landed on my slides. The urban areas are far enough away from the harvesting that the particles were not blown there. If I had done this test during the summer when there was no harvesting or when farmers are not working their fields, I think I would have different results. I also think that the particles that are produced in urban areas may be too small to be seen with a dissecting microscope. Particles of soot from car and truck exhaust are very small as compared to dust, soil particles, and plant parts that are blown in the air from harvesting.

    One other hypothesis I had was that there would be a difference in the particulate air pollution in different types of habitats. My hypothesis was that there would be more particles in near the road and the least amount would be in the woods. I thought the field sites would be somewhere in between. The data for the rural areas (Fig. 3) show that the most particles were collected from the forest site and the least from the road site. This is completely opposite my hypothesis. I this is because the forest slows wind movement and allows particles to settle better than along the road or in a field.

    Unlike the rural area, the urban area did agree with my hypothesis that the road would have the most particulate pollution (Fig. 4) when compared to other habitats. But the urban field did show the lowest amount of particles.
 


 
 
 
 
Conclusion

    In conclusion, my project was to find out, "Is there more air particulate matter in an urban or a rural area". For my project I chose three sites in an urban area and three sites in rural area. Then I placed slides smeared with a thin layer of Vaseline in each of these sites to capture particulate air pollution. I repeated the experiment three times and averaged the results. Based on my date there was more air particulate matter in the rural area as compared to the urban area. This was because the time of the year I sampled was during the corn and soybean harvest and that produced a lot of material. I do not think that this level of particulate matter is constant throughout the year but does occur when farmers are active in their fields. Also, the soot particles produced by automobiles and trucks in the urban area may have been too small to see and count.

    The data that I recorded was opposite my hypothesis in one case but not another. I thought there would be more particulate pollution along the road as compared to the field or the forest. In the rural area my hypothesis was wrong. But in the urban area it was correct. I think that forests slow the movement of air. In the rural areas where there was crop harvesting, the particulate matter settled out. But in the urban area where there was no plant particles to settle out in the forest, the road had the greatest amount of particulate air pollution.
 


 
 
 
Bibliography
  • Williams L. Ramsey, Lucretia A. Gabriel, James F. McGuirk, Clifford R. Phillips, Frank M. Watenpaugh, 1982, Holt Science textbook, Holt, Rinehart &Winton Publishing, pp. 472-477.
  • American Lung Association, The Air Quality Index - Fact Sheet.
  • www.Bigchalk.com/environmental protection
  • Boy Scouts of America, 1998. Environmental Science Merit Badge Handbook, Irving, TX, pp. 96.
  • Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (www.epa.gov) Air Quality Index, Fact Sheet.
  • EPA, (www.epa.gov), Particulate Matter.
  • EPA, (www.epa.gov), Air Now.
  • Miller, Tyler, 1988. Environmental Science, 2nd edition. Wadsworth Belmont CA, pp. 318-346.
  • Oregon Department of the Environment, (www.deq.state.or.us), Air Quality Index.

 
 
 

Data

Table 1: Particulate Matter identified by site and trial. (All units in particles/1.5 cm2)
                   
    RURAL         URBAN    
1-WOODED         4-WOODED        
2-FIELD         5-FIELD        
3-MAJOR ROAD         6-MAJOR ROAD        
                   
TRIAL #1                  
17-Oct A B Total Site Average   A B Total Site Average
1 175 173 348 174 4 120 127 247 123.5
2 146 140 286 143 5 115 111 226 113
3 125 132 257 128.5 6 118 105 223 111.5
sum 446 445 891 445.5 sum 353 343 696 348
Rural average 148.67 148.33 297.00   Urban average 117.67 114.33 232.00  
                   
TRIAL#2                  
22-Oct A B Total Site Average   A B Total Site Average
1 167 180 347 173.5 4 136 130 266 133
2 141 148 289 144.5 5 139 148 287 143.5
3 143 140 283 141.5 6 150 146 296 148
sum 451 468 919 459.5 sum 425 424 849 424.5
Rural average 150.33 156.00 306.33   Urban average 141.67 141.33 283.00  
                   
TRIAL#3                  
19-Nov A B Total Site Average   A B Total Site Average
1 174 178 352 176 4 139 144 283 141.5
2 157 153 310 155 5 155 153 308 154
3 149 140 289 144.5 6 159 146 305 152.5
sum 480 471 951 475.5 sum 453 453 906 453
Rural average 160.00 157.00 317.00   Urban average 151.00 151.00 302.00  
                   
Site average         Site average        
1 174.50       4 132.70      
2 147.50       5 132.20      
3 138.20       6 137.30      
                   
Rural average 153.4       Urban average 134.07      

 
 
Graphs
Fig. 1- Average total air particulate matter
Fig. 2- Comparison of particle matter by size
Fig. 3- Air paricules in rural areas
Fig. 4- Air paricules in urban areas

ChartObject Figure 1: AVERAGE TOTAL AIR PARTICULATE MATTER














 
 

ChartObject Figure 2: Comparison of Particulate Matter by Site














 
 

ChartObject Figure 3:   AIR PARTICULATES               Rural Areas














 
 

ChartObject Figure 4:    AIR PARTICULATES                   Urban Areas


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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LINKS
Best Air Quality site
Oregon Department of the Environment

 

This page was developed by students of the Environmental Research Center.

George M. Radcliffe 
Centreville Middle School 
231 Ruthsburg Rd. 
Centreville, MD 21617 
1-410-758-0883, ext. 277
georger@umd5.umd.edu
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