The Kansas Sierra Club says an ozone air quality monitor near Manhattan was turned off at the start of the pasture burning season last year and hasn't been turned on since.
Craig Volland, the chair of the Sierra Club's air quality committee, says the Konza Prairie monitor was turned off as part of a concerted effort between Kansas State University and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to avoid both research limitations and possible repercussions from possible sanctions by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Volland also says the EPA removed the monitor upon a request from K-State, the operating agency, and The Nature Conservancy, the landowner in the case.
EPA, KDHE and Kansas State officials have not commented on the Sierra Club statement, although KDHE plans a comment by Tuesday. Volland says his conclusions are based on documents from K-State, KDHE and the EPA, and he says a change in regulatory status offering milder sanctions for rural versus urban monitors may not have been communicated effectively to the university or KDHE.
Volland says the decision to shut down the Konza Prairie monitor is a concern, but so is the fact there is no monitor in Lyon or surrounding counties, which rely heavily on pasture burns to revive grasses for cattle and kill off noxious weeds at the same time. The nearest monitors would be at Topeka, Manhattan and Wichita.
The Flint Hills has been involved in a Smoke Management Plan as a way to let producers burn while tracking air quality levels. Smoke from the Flint Hills can travel as far north as Omaha and Des Moines and as far east as Nashville, depending on the amount of particles and the prevailing wind speeds. Information on the Smoke Management Plan is available online at www.ksfire.org.