Blackout Had Dramatic Air-Quality Effect

Last summer’s power outage in the U.S. Northeast was an economic disaster, but according to researchers it had one happy consequence: The air became, almost overnight, remarkably cleaner. The blackout saw over 100 power plants shut down on August 14. On August 15, 24 hours into the blackout, a group of Maryland researchers that has monitored air quality with small planes for years sent one flying over a rural town in central Pennsylvania. What they found startled them: Visibility had increased by some 20 miles, as light-scattering particles were reduced by 70 percent. Sulfur dioxide levels were reduced by 90 percent, and ozone was down by about 50 percent. Lackson Marufu, an atmospheric chemist, said the group had expected to find cleaner air with no power plants going, but “[w]hat surprised us was the extent that they influenced the regional air quality.” Said researcher Russell R. Dickerson, “This provides absolute proof of the importance of long-range transport” of pollutants.