The wintertime air quality project has been a long term project between Keene State College and main collaborator Southwest Region Planning Commission, and other community and state partners, the City of Keene, Cheshire Medical Center, and the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (NHDES). In 2009, the NHDES observed new trends at their state monitoring station, showing elevated levels of fine particulate matter (PM) in Keene. There was concern because occasionally levels of PM exceeded EPA National Ambient Air Quality standards on certain evenings. A woodstove changeout program was initiated. Dr. Nora Traviss was asked by NH Senator Molly Kelly to be on the local task force, and eventually the Steering Committee of the Keene Woodstove Changeout program in the winter of 2009/2010. This woodstove changeout program was supported by EPA and resulted in 86 new stoves in Keene, albeit far short of the goal. Lessons learned included that even with vouchers supporting the purchase of new woodstoves, many Keene residents struggled with the costs of professional installation (sometimes more than the stove itself); this negatively impacted participation.
Since 2010, Dr. Traviss continued to research woodsmoke exposure in Keene, along with her research on the exposure assessment and toxicological impacts of biodiesel combustion. Over the years, wintertime air quality has both decreased and increased - revealing a very complex underlying phenomenon highlighting Keene's air quality being directly related to shallow air inversions in our valley. These air inversions occur during certain cold, calm nights with clear skies and no wind, and the hot woodsmoke exhaust sinks and hangs close to the cold ground and is not dissipated. During air inversions, concentrations of harmful fine particulate matter (PM) increase to unhealthy levels in the Keene valley. Keene State students assisted with NHDES researchers to conduct mobile monitoring starting in 2013 and 2014, revealing that some neighborhoods showed a pattern of higher PM levels. Typically, higher PM levels were associated with higher housing density; KSC students at the time also determined that up to 20% of residents used wood as a primary source of heat.