Field evaluation of digital optical method to quantify the visual opacity of plumes

Ke Du, Mark J. Rood, Byung J. Kim, Michael R. Kemme, Bill J. Franek, Kevin Mattison, Joan Cook

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Visual Determination of the Opacity of Emissions from Stationary Sources (Method 9) is a reference method established by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to quantify plume opacity. However, Method 9 relies on observations from humans, which introduces subjectivity. In addition, it is expensive to teach and certify personnel to evaluate plume opacity on a semiannual basis. In this study, field tests were completed during a "smoke school" and a 4-month monitoring program of plumes emitted from stationary sources with a Method 9 qualified observer to evaluate the use of digital photography and two computer algorithms as an alternative to Method 9. This Digital Optical Method (DOM) improves objectivity, costs less to implement than Method 9, and provides archival photographic records of the plumes. Results from "smoke school" tests indicate that DOM passed six of eight tests when the sun was located in the 140° sector behind one of the three cameras, with the individual opacity errors of 15% or less and average opacity errors of 7.5% or less. DOM also passed seven of the eight tests when the sun was located in the 216° sector behind another camera. However, DOM passed only one of the eight tests when the sun was located in the 116° sector in front of the third camera. Certification to read plume opacity by a "smoke reader" for 6 months requires that the "smoke reader" pass one of the smoke school tests during smoke school. The average opacity errors and percentage of observations with individual opacity errors above 15% for the results obtained with DOM were lower than those obtained by the smoke school trainees with the sun was located behind the camera, whereas they were higher than the smoke school trainee results with the sun located in front of the camera. In addition, the difference between plume opacity values obtained by DOM and a Method 9 qualified observer, as measured in the field for two industrial sources, were 2.2%. These encouraging results demonstrate that DOM is able to meet Method 9 requirements under a wide variety of field conditions and, therefore, has potential to be used as an alternative to Method 9.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)836-844
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of the Air and Waste Management Association
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2007

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law

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