Flint Hills Burns Cause Unhealthy Air in Manhattan KS

 Prescribed fire smoke in Manhattan, Kansas, March 29, 2014. (Source: Wildfire Today)

Portable air pollution monitors deployed this spring by the Kansas Sierra Club and members of the CleanAirNow Coalition indicate that the health of Manhattan residents is at risk during the Flint Hills burning season. Manhattan, home to Kansas State University, is the largest population center in Kansas directly in the path of smoke moving north.

The monitors showed PM2.5 fine particle levels well above the National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) on April 7 and April 11, 2017. The results were consistent with levels measured in Lincoln, Nebraska the next day.

This wholesale burning has caused exceedances of the NAAQS for PM2.5 and/or ozone at monitors in Lincoln or Omaha, Nebraska this year and in each of the previous three years. There are no continuous PM2.5 monitors between Kansas City, Ks. and the Cedar Bluff Reservoir monitor near Hays, a distance of some 280 miles, capable of monitoring a northerly moving smoke plume in Kansas.

“Short-term exposure to particulate matter air pollution can be deadly. It can trigger asthma attacks, and has been linked to strokes, heart attacks, and other serious health effects,” says Eric Kirkendall, Director of the Diesel Health Project and member of the CleanAirNow coalition.

“A lot of people in this town and at the University are at risk,” says Manhattan resident and host of one of the monitors, Carol Barta. “We need a study of the cases seen at hospitals & clinics in Manhattan and elsewhere on heavy burn days like we recently experienced.”

Big Burn in the Flint Hills, April 11, 2017

The groups are calling for KDHE to improve their ineffective 2010 Smoke Management Plan and to install continuous PM2.5 monitors to assess the health risks to small town and rural residents near the Flint Hills. They note that, unlike Kansas, Oklahoma has installed ten continuous PM2.5 particle monitors throughout the state connected to EPA’s AirNow alert system.

“State officials and stakeholders in the Flint Hills seem to think this problem will go away if they ignore it long enough,” says KSU Professor and Sierra Club member, Scott Smith. “We think that the good people of Kansas can get together with officials and fix it.”

The full report on the monitoring project may be found on the  Kansas Sierra Club website.