By Jane Gervasoni, U.S. Army Public Health CommandDecember 2, 2011
The U.S. Army Public Health Command has a new weapon in its arsenal to keep Soldiers and retirees, their families, and Army civilians safe from airborne environmental hazards. Environmental health experts at the USAPHC have equipped a Mobile Ambient Air Monitoring System capable of rapid deployments to locations affected by air quality hazards such as Arizona, which experienced heavy smoke from recent wild fires.
"We deployed the MAAMS at the request of the Raymond W. Bliss Army Health Center Preventive Medicine Department to monitor air quality for the Fort Huachuca community," explained Terry Meade, MAAMS project manager in USAPHC's Deployment Environment Surveillance Program.
"Our job was to determine if the air quality in the Fort Huachuca community was affected by the particulate matter and gasses produced by the wild fires," he said.
Contaminants like sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, ozone and carbon monoxide are found in the air we breathe, but high concentrations of these compounds along with high amounts of particulate matter (dust) can cause breathing problems. The equipment in the MAAMS monitors meteorological conditions including temperature, air pressure, wind speed and wind direction, as well as these contaminants.
"People on the installation were fortunate the winds were in their favor and kept most of the smoke to the south," Meade explained.
The equipment is designed to support environmental assessments like this. The USAPHC also has three trailer-mounted MAAMS, but the Fort Huachuca deployment was the first for the truck-enclosed system.
The system is a self-contained, environmentally-controlled vehicle housing a suite of instruments that continuously monitors for pollutants. USAPHC uses Environmental Protection Agency criteria in determining air quality.
"Our work at Fort Huachuca provided us with a better overall picture of the community's air quality. From a public health standpoint, having a complete picture during a situation like this enables us to identify potential health effects and give information to commanders so they can provide necessary warnings appropriate for the conditions," explained Lt. Col. Sheryl Kennedy, DESP program manager.
"We learned a lot on this deployment," said Meade. "We learned to be aware of logistical considerations including locations of power sources and Internet connections to ensure data transfer back to our headquarters. It gave us the opportunity to anticipate problems so we can prepare in advance for contingencies to ensure mission success. The science behind what we do is unique--being able to provide important health surveillance data rapidly will help commanders make science-based decisions to keep their people safe."
"We hope to raise awareness in the military community of the capabilities of the Mobile Ambient Air Monitoring System," said Kennedy. "We want commanders to be aware that this tool is available to them to provide real-time air-quality monitoring."
"The USAPHC is looking at other locations that may benefit from the mobile monitoring capabilities of the MAAMS equipment," said Meade. "We are discussing the feasibility of deploying this type of monitoring platform in support of Operation Enduring Freedom to help assess air quality issues within Afghanistan."
"The rapid deployment capability of the system and its ability to collect real-time data is a real asset that commanders can resource during serious incidents where air quality is a concern," said Brig. Gen. Gregg Potter, commanding general, U.S. Army Intelligence Center of Excellence, Fort Huachuca, during his observation of the vehicle's performance.
(Information contributed by the Fort Huachuca Scout Newspaper.)