Blue Smokestack Mystery Unraveled

Apr 2, 2017 | Beyond the Bubble, News

On March 28th, students noticed a strange group of people congregating in the San Mateo Event Center parking lot. They were sitting on lawn chairs, observing a blue smokestack, and occasionally calling out numbers on a megaphone.

Some students reported having noticed similar proceedings before, approximately once every six months. Nobody seemed to know anything more than that.

“We thought it was a cult,” joked senior Kylie H.

At lunchtime, I joined a group of seniors and went to investigate. As we approached, we noticed that the smokestack was mounted on wheels, and had “EPA” written on the side.

As it turns out, the gathering was not a cult, but actually a certification test for Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) “observers” called Method 9.

EPA observers write tickets for buildings that emit more than legal levels of pollution. The Method 9 test assesses their ability to visually appraise whether or not visible smoke (one type of pollution limited by the EPA) surpasses allowed opacity levels. The testimony of these observers stands up in court, as long as they are certified.

Thus, the blue smokestack was part of an EPA test, the people in lawn chairs were observers getting certified (or recertified), and the numbers being called out were opacity levels. Case closed.

Junior Sinead C. said, “I’m glad it’s not a cult.”

I’m glad it’s not a cult.

- Sinead C.