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NASA used a plane to collect air pollution data over Baltimore. Here's what was found.

NASA uses plane to check air quality over Baltimore City
NASA uses plane to check air quality over Baltimore City 02:49

BALTIMORE - A low-flying plane over Baltimore, with NASA scientists aboard, collected data on the city's air pollution on Tuesday.

Glenn Wolfe, a NASA research scientist, told WJZ that air pollution was found, but that's normal over any major city. The wind played a major factor in moving air around.

However, Wolfe said things could get dangerous this weekend with searing temperatures nearing 100 degrees.

How does the pollution research work?

The aircraft for Alegros, a mission spearheaded by Wolfe, is testing air quality in Baltimore City. The mission took seven months of planning and it all comes down to two hours in the air, just 1,000 feet above ground. 

Wolfe and his team fly the small aircraft over Baltimore and other East Coast cities for about two weeks to gather data, seeing what's in our air at nose level.

"We pull air into the plane from the tube that's hanging underneath the plane," Wolfe explained. "We pull that into an instrument that exposes that air to light and it's kind of like the gasses were measuring. They have fingerprints for the light so you're taking a fingerprint of that gas and that's how you determine which gas it is." 

What did NASA researchers find?

The mission is relatively small for NASA, but the larger focus is understanding emissions in densely populated urban areas.

"I'd say any level of pollution is concerning," Wolfe said.    

According to the American Lung Association, air pollution has been linked to numerous health concerns, including respiratory issues and cardiovascular disease. 

Ozone and particulate matter in the air are already of top concern in Baltimore.

"We're finding, as you would expect, there's a lot of pollution coming out of the power plants," Wolfe said. "There's a lot of pollution coming out of the city. We're seeing some methane emissions coming out of the landfills."

The data collected will be sent to state leaders to determine the next steps on how to bring the levels of air pollution down.

However, as Maryland battles a heatwave, Wolfe said the air quality could take a major dip. 

"Right now, we're not seeing a lot of ozone in the air partly because that's a lot of wind," Wolfe said. "Later in the week, we expect this to build up as the heatwave continues."

Key Bridge collapse impact?

WJZ asked Wolfe about the air above the Key Bridge collapse site and if any debris that was sent flying affected our air quality.

He said that the event happened too long ago to determine, but they will test to see if there are any spikes in the air quality because of changes in shipping traffic and road traffic. 

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