‘Smoke School’ trains people to identify characteristics of industrial plumes

October 01, 2013

Every day, industrial companies across the United States have experts who inspect the smoke that billows out of factory smoke stacks in order to comply with environmental regulations regarding pollution. They do it by looking into the sky and determining the opacity of the plumes.

Employees of these companies must be familiar with requirements, enforcement policies and certification tests involving industrial smoke.

To accommodate this need, Penn State offers a Visible Emissions Training Program that teaches attendees how to visually identify characteristics of smoke plumes. It’s scheduled for Oct. 15-16 at the Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel on the University Park campus and is also offered at two other campuses in October – Greater Allegheny and Lehigh Valley. 

“Opacity is directly proportional to how much pollution you’re putting out,” said John Cimbala, professor of mechanical engineering at Penn State.

Cimbala, who has taught at "Smoke School" for more than 10 years, said the program is about using your eyes as an instrument to measure opacity.

He defines opacity as the degree to which smoke blocks light.

Cimbala and his colleague, Wayne Pauley, principal research engineer affiliated with LeMont Nittany Corportation, hold a classroom-style lecture that helps trainees understand opacity and teaches them to recognize varying degrees of opacity in industrial smoke plumes. 

“What you’re really doing is calibrating your eyeballs,” Cimbala said.

Students use the information they acquire in the classroom to complete a series of field activities created to test their ability to identify opacity levels in black and white smoke.  Participants must accurately determine the opacity of 50 smoke plumes in order to become certified.

“It’s a visual way to look at the output of your smoke stack, and if you’re forced to do it every day and write down a number, you will notice a difference,” Cimbala said.  “It’s a good way to spot when there’s a problem.”

The Visible Emissions Training Program is applicable to consultants, lawyers, individuals with regulatory agencies, plant engineers, environmental engineers, technicians, boiler operators and process-operating personnel. Formal education in science, engineering or technology is not a prerequisite of the program.

Click here for more information or to register for 'Smoke School.'

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Last Updated October 04, 2013