How Clean Is Our Air? Investigating with Citizen Science

Feb 8, 2016

Clean Air Carolina staff are working to better understand the air we breathe with a new citizen science program called the Clean Air Zones Monitoring Project. Citizen Science lets people gather data from their daily personal experiences. It is like a Fitbit for our environment. It gives us real time data on fine particulate matter in our air. It makes the invisible visible.

On a recent cool, windy, February morning, Clean Air Carolina (CAC) staff and six members of the Women’s Impact Fund were using hand-held monitors to track and map exposure to particle pollution outside our office off Tyvola Road in Charlotte, NC. People were surprised as the particulate matter (PM) indicator went up, moving from safe green levels, to yellow and on into alarming orange, following the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Air Quality Color Guide. Looking at GIS maps of the area, noticing the wind direction and a smell to the air, we predicted the pollution was coming from an oil refinery down the street.

The use of air quality monitoring technology and citizen science projects are currently being encouraged by the Environmental Protection Agency. We were using AirBeam monitors outfitted with light scattering technology to measure fine particles, those small enough to pass through the lungs and into the bloodstream. The monitors are blue tooth and Wi-Fi enabled with real time data management and mapping capabilities.

Our air monitoring participants were engaged, interest was high, and there was a lively sharing of information. Everyone was on task. Hands-on science gets people thinking and asking questions. People gather information, think critically and solve problems. Plus, it’s fun!

The Clean Air Zones Monitoring Project is an innovative expansion of our Clear the Air for Kids! Program. We are currently looking for funding to take this engaging new program into schools and neighborhoods this fall to promote air awareness, advocacy education, and to contribute to STEM learning.

This blog was written by Clear the Air for Kids! coordinator, Mary Stauble

The AirBeam Monitor and AirCasting Application
The AirBeam Monitor connects to your phone.

 

 The AirBeam Monitor and AirCasting Applicaiton
The  AirCasting Application displays the data.

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