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first on Decorah's air is dirtier than you might think!

Posted: Tue, Sep 11, 2018 2:26 PM

When you hear the phrase "air pollution," you think of larger cities like Los Angeles or New York.  But there's no guarantee that the atmosphere in smaller towns like Decorah is 100 percent pure.

For the past 16 months, Decorah resident Tim Wagner has been operating a monitor in Decorah that automatically records the Air Quality Index (AQI).  Wagner is an Iowa native, but spent 23 years living in Utah, where he got interested in the dangers of poor air quality.  He tells that air quality there would deteriorate in the winter, when air inversions would keep the air pollution trapped in the atmosphere.  He worked on the issue for a number of years, even getting appointed to the Governor's Task Force on Climate Change in Utah.

So when Wagner decided to move to Decorah, a town he loved while growing up, he asked a friend in Utah to send him an inexpensive digital air monitor.  Wagner hooked up the monitor early in 2017--and discovered that Decorah's Air Quality Index not uncommonly was worse than that of Des Moines. 

Wagner says "this bowl we live in" is to blame--as well as the habits of people who call Decorah home.  The worst Air Quality Index readings are from 7:00 until 9:00 in the morning--a time when cars and school buses and delivery trucks and construction vehicles all are on the road at the same time.  The emissions from those vehicles stay in the air--especially on days when there isn't a strong wind to blow them away.

Wagner says when he worked on air quality issues in Utah, citizens groups paid a lot of attention to the issue of motor idling.  "Idling is a big deal," he tells of the overall air pollution issue.  He says even a short period of time with an engine idling can reduce air quality. The Decorah City Council has been discussing whether the city should have an anti-idling ordinance.  Wagner has spoken in favor of such a step at a recent city council meeting.

In the meantime, results from Wagner's air monitoring are posted live on the Internet.  To check out Decorah's AQI, visit