By Roberta Burnes
Division for Air Quality
The Kentucky Division for Air Quality (DAQ) was delighted to host some international visitors recently – all the way from Mongolia! Their visit was part of a cross-cultural tour of American cities to learn best practices in air monitoring and pollution prevention at the state level.
The visit was made possible by the U.S. Dept. of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program and was organized by the World Affairs Council (WAC) of Kentucky & Southern Indiana. Members of the Mongolian delegation included:
- Nyamdavaa Shagdar, Sr. Officer of the Environmental Monitoring Department, Nat’l. Agency for Meteorology & Environment Monitoring of Mongolia;
- Narmandakh Luvsandorj, Information Technology and Public Affairs Officer, Air Quality Agency of Ulaanbaatar
- Erdenetsogt Jamiyansuren, Board Chair, Mongolian National Committee on Green Development and Clean Technology
Two translators joined the visitors, helping to bridge the language barrier. The group met with DAQ Director Sean Alteri, and other DAQ staff before touring the air monitoring lab near the division’s central offices in Frankfort.
The lab provides a work space for air monitoring equipment to be tested, calibrated and repaired before being deployed in the field. During the tour, DAQ Scientist John Walker, explained how Kentucky monitors for air pollutants. The visitors got a first-hand look at equipment used to detect sulfur dioxide, particulate matter, ozone and nitrogen dioxide.
Mongolia’s capital, Ulaanbaatar, is known as the world’s coldest capital city. It is also one of the most heavily polluted cities in the world as it sits in a valley between mountain ranges, trapping pollutants.
Nearly half the population of Mongolia lives in the capital city, more than 1.3 million people. As Ulaanbaatar’s population has grown, tens of thousands of felt-covered tents known as yurts have popped up along the city’s outskirts. With no electricity to heat their temporary homes, the occupants burn coal to stay warm.
Shagdar and Luvsandori, both air monitoring specialists, spoke about the public health crisis caused by their city’s poor air quality and the challenges of regulating air pollution from so many individual sources.
“The population of Ulaanbaatar grows each winter as nomadic tribespeople return to the city to live,” said Shagdar. “None of them are connected to the electricity grid, which makes it especially hard to control their emissions.”
Jamiyansuren heads a non-governmental think tank that promotes sustainable policy solutions that prioritize green development and clean technology. He noted that there is great interest in green development and switching to cleaner energy sources, but said that the supply of wind, solar and even natural gas can not currently keep up with the demand of Ulaanbaatar’s ever-growing population.
“We’ve looked at ways of reducing particulate matter from the thousands of coal-burning stoves in family dwellings, including grants to help pay the cost of switching to cleaner-burning stoves,” said Jamiyansuren. “But there is more to be done to encourage energy conservation and efficiency.”
The Kentucky Division for Air Quality was just one stop on the group’s three-week tour, which includes stops in Washington D.C., New York City, Louisville, Denver, Phoenix and San Francisco.
The team had several goals for its tour, including: learning about local air quality and pollution initiatives, watchdog activities, public health protection and partnerships, environmental health and justice campaigns, coalition building, grassroots actions, environmental reporting, and public outreach.
“In many ways, Mongolia is dealing with air quality challenges that Kentucky faced many decades ago,” said DAQ Director Sean Alteri. “It was fascinating to meet air quality professionals from the other side of the world and to share our expertise with one another.”