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EPA Releases Air Sampling Data Collected by Mobile Labs

Release Date: 09/16/2005
Contact Information:


Contact: Eryn Witcher, 202-436-2215 / witcher.eryn@epa.gov

Correction: This news release erroneously stated that elevated levels of benzene and toluene were found. Instead, as the data results indicated, the statement should have said elevated levels of benzene and xylene were detected. All three chemicals are commonly found in petroleum, as well as other industrial solvents.

(9/16/05) EPA collected air screening samples from multiple locations across the New Orleans metropolitan area on September 12 & 13. The samples were analyzed for volatile priority pollutants such as benzene, toluene, and xylene, which are commonly found in gasoline, as well as other industrial solvents. EPA used two of its Trace Atmospheric Gas Analyzer (TAGA) buses. The TAGA is a self-contained mobile laboratory capable of continuous, real-time sampling and analysis.
It can detect chemicals in the low parts per billion levels of outdoor air or emissions from various environmental sources. TAGA monitoring results are only used for screening and represent the status of the air at the time of sampling. These screening data were evaluated against the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) air short-term health standards in order to provide an initial assessment of air quality.

The screening results indicated that chemical concentrations in most areas are below ATSDR health standards of concern. The low level of volatile pollutants is not surprising as contaminants may be bound to the sediment. Monitoring data directly around the Murphy Oil spill revealed some slightly elevated levels of benzene and toluene that are associated with the petroleum release. Long-term exposure (a year or longer) at the levels measured would be required for health effects to be of concern.

These initial results represent the beginning of extensive sampling efforts and do not represent all air conditions throughout the area. As this is a dynamic situation, general conclusions should not be made regarding air safety based on results from this snapshot of data. For sampling information go to:
http://www.epa.gov/katrina/testresults/air/taga.html .