NWSA Students take lead to learn about Air Quality in Mecklenburg County

Apr 11, 2017

High school student David Marin from Northwest School of the Arts (NWSA) contacted Clean Air Carolina recently, interested to learn more about our AirKeepers Citizen Science Program. Marin started an after school Environmental Club “to make helping the environment fun, rather than a chore”. They have 25 students that attend, as their schedules allow.

At our first session a group of students, a teacher and a parent, learned about Clean Air Carolina and our citizen science program. We had a short overview of air quality and then went deeper into air pollutants, most which are invisible, specifically focusing on fine particulate matter or PM. Health effects from this pollutant can occur all throughout a person’s life and include low birth weight, asthma, respiratory disease, heart disease, stroke and even cancer. There is no safe level and PM can be a problem year-round.

Clean Air Carolina has purchased portable AirBeam monitors that measure fine particulate matter, or PM 2.5. After a demonstration and a few instructions, students broke into groups and measured indoor PM 2.5 levels at stations around the classroom. It helped give them an idea of how the AirBeam worked. It is paired with an Android device with the AirCasting app. The app allows us to see what the monitor sees in real time. It makes particle pollution in the air visible, so we can see the level of particle pollution we are breathing.

Data that is collected during air monitoring can be uploaded into the AirCasting website, an open sourced platform for displaying environmental data. A session from NWSA’s bus lot taken at the end of the day showed a high level of PM from one bus that was idling while waiting for students to be dismissed. Turning off your engine while waiting is an easy way to reduce fine particulate matter in the air. Students wanted to know what they could do to protect air quality in North Carolina.

The following week the Environmental Club was outside NWSA monitoring the air on campus. They divided into five groups, each with an AirBeam monitor and a tablet with the AirCasting app. Each group had an area of the campus to investigate. When they returned most reported good air quality. A low of 1 to a high of 12 micrograms per cubic meter, all within the good air quality range. It would be interesting to repeat this investigation at different times of the day, especially when the school is full of students, or at dismissal time when buses and cars are busy picking up students. Would they get the same results?

Monitoring air quality is a complicated endeavor. Mobile air monitoring gives a snapshot of our air in that moment of time. It is constantly changing, affected by pollution levels, but also by wind and weather, season and time of day. What is good today, may not be good tomorrow. As we learn about factors that contribute to air pollution we can learn actions to protect air quality. It was great to see students ready to be part of the solution to care for our environment.

Thanks to a grant from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation Clean Air Carolina is working with Northwest School of the Arts, four additional schools and three neighborhood organizations to measure fine particle pollution in Charlotte’s Northwest Corridor.