Steve Langston, a technician at the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Air Pollution Control Bureau, says the little roto-rod sampler holds a wealth of information. He checks it each weekday morning just outside the bureau's office.
"It spins one minute out of every 10 minutes, collecting pollen," says Langston. This is important for those who suffer from outdoor allergies.
The old school roto-rod is very reliable and accurate. Pollen grains stick to it so they can be analyzed on-site in the lab under the microscope.
"I can do a pollen count in 15 minutes," says Langston. "But in the spring when we get the big pollen boom--wow--you're talking 30 minutes."
With training, experience, and a simple click counter in his hand Langston can figure out how much pollen is out there and what kinds of pollen are in the air.
"Still lots of pine and a little grass," states Langston, regarding Thursday's results.
He looks mostly for differences in shape.
"Most of the hardwoods look a lot alike, but the pine pollen is very distinguishable," adds Langston. "It's much larger and shaped differently. It looks like a Mickey Mouse hat. Magnolia looks like a football."
It's important to report the daily pollen numbers, which is voluntary. But the Environmental Protection Agency requires continual monitoring of air quality and pollutant levels.
"People need to know if the air is healthy for them to breathe. If they have respiratory issues, for older adults or young children, it can affect their breathing," says Amber Boles, Public Relations Coordinator for the Air Pollution Control Bureau.
Several monitoring sites across the region send data back to the bureau's office each hour regarding low-atmospheric ozone and other pollutants. Like pollen, air quality results are categorized based on severity. Unlike pollen, which is an irritant, pollutants can be a matter of life and death. So it's important to read the reports.
"Pollution is something that is going to go deep down in your lungs and can cause lung disease, asthma, cancer down the road," adds Boles.
The Air Pollution Control Bureau measures pollen and air quality Monday through Friday, except holidays.