KENNEBUNKPORT — On the shoreline in Kennebunkport, tucked away beside St. Anne’s Episcopal Church on Ocean Avenue, lies a device that has been monitoring particle pollution and air quality for the past 30 years.

The apparatus, which gauges the area’s ozone levels, provides data that is accessible by a telephone or Internet connection from a remote location ”“ like the office of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection in Augusta, which for decades has relied on information culled from the site to provide locals with daily reports and forecasts on air quality.

Each year, the DEP makes a request for the town to continue hosting the monitoring site. And each year, Kennebunkport approves it.

The municipality is one of several throughout the state to host one of the ozone monitoring sites; there are about 19 in all, spread throughout eight “zones” across Maine. Rarely, though, does a town or city continue to host one of the sites for so long.

“It’s close to one of the longest-running sites we’ve had,” said DEP spokesperson Jessamine Logan.

This year will be the 31st year that Kennebunkport has played host to the site, which is camouflaged with sharkskin coloring that allows it to blend into the surroundings.

As a mark of thanks, the DEP presented the town with a plaque during Thursday’s meeting of the board of selectmen.

“The data continues to support Maine air quality forecasting efforts,” said Town Manager Laurie Smith. “We’re happy to host it.”

The Kennebunkport site is in the perfect spot, said Logan, because it’s on the coast ”“ where the highest ozone concentrations typically occur ”“ and is on publicly accessible land. It also meets specific criteria for hosting the ozone monitor: It has no structural or natural obstructions, such as tall trees or shrubs; it experiences unrestricted air flow from the direction of usually high ozone concentrations; and there is minimal interference from possible pollutants like chimneys, or heavily trafficked roads.

Information is collected by the onsite data logger, said Logan, and the DEP’s Bureau of Air Quality uses that information to make air quality assessments and forecasts on Maine’s official government website. Data is also shared with meteorologists who issue a daily Air Quality Index.

“From past experience, and analysis of ozone air quality and weather conditions, forecasters can predict what the next day’s Air Quality Index is likely to be with a fairly high degree of confidence,” said Logan, adding that the DEP correctly forecasts ozone levels between 86-93 percent of the time.

Ozone levels are often more problematic in the summer, said Logan. But the site also monitors air particle data, and according to information provided by the DEP, winters can contribute to increased particulate concentrations in the immediate atmosphere.

“Coarse particle levels will rise near roadways and parking lots as the salt and sand is stirred up by winds or vehicle traffic,” according to a DEP-issued statement. “This is most likely in the days following a winter storm. Once the salt/sand mixture dries out, it is stirred up more easily.”

More information, as well as daily air quality assessments and forecasts, is available at http://maine.gov/dep/air/ozone. The DEP also uses EnviroFlash and Twitter to sent out notifications when air quality is expected to be poor.

— Staff Writer Jeff Lagasse can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 319 or [email protected]



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