There is something in the air in the Historic West End
But, what exactly is it? What is happening to the environment in the Historic West End?
The industrial facilities and major highways of I-85, I-77, and the Brookshire Freeway have something to do with finding that answer. However, someone has to be curious enough to pose the question, search for an answer, and inform others about their findings. Someone has to decide to become an environmental justice advocate for their neighborhood.
That is exactly what neighborhood leaders Ron Ross, Mattie Marshall, and William Hughes Jr. have been doing for the past year-and-a-half. Clean Air Carolina, a statewide initiative focused on raising North Carolina’s air quality, recently recognized the trio with a 2018 AirKeepers Award. This Saturday, April 7 from 11am-2pm at 1101 Beatties Ford Road, West End Nature Day will provide a family-friendly atmosphere filled with crafts, arts, and hands-on science activities that encourage other West End residents to explore and question what is happening in their environment.
Clean Air For All
Ross, Marshall, and Hughes have been dedicated to tracking the air quality of the west side using special monitors provided by Clean Air Carolina. As the first AirKeepers to use the new home monitors, they have served as citizen scientists and have been collecting, tracking, and helping to interpret the air quality data captured by their devices. Marshall shared what motivated them to become AirKeepers. “Along the Northwest corridor we noticed we were disproportionately impacted by a lot of air quality issues…In a lot of our neighborhood we are impacted by several different highways. We are impacted by a lot of fast food place where people idle their cars. We are also impacted by a lot of industries in and around our neighborhood.” She continued, “So, we decided to look at these particular issues. When Clean Air Carolina approached us about the AirKeeper opportunity we were all interested in taking a stand against air pollution.”
When taking a stand against environmental issues, clear and accurate data is key. Data captured with quality equipment and a strong data sample can make the case when pushing for environmental policy changes. Hughes took a moment to explain the AirKeeper process. “We each have an air quality monitor stationed at our homes that measures the air quality, specifically the particulate matter.” He continued, “We can go to the Purple Air website, and it will show the rating of the air as it goes from healthy to unhealthy, and vice versa. Different things contribute to the change in ratings such as vehicles idling, pollutants coming off the highway, and so on.” Hughes says that the online map would reveal interesting data that helped to identify pollution trends in the neighborhood. When one area of the Historic West End was experiencing unhealthy air ratings while another was not, the AirKeeper in the affected area may notice an idling truck nearby or some other factor that would help explain the unhealthy air quality reading.
Data for Justice
The data collected is helping to reveal the environmental inequalities experienced in the Historic West End. Ross shares about one of those major environmental inequalities. “From an injustice standpoint, you have to examine where the bad quality of air is located and what causes it.” He continued, “We have a high concentration of businesses that deal in toxic materials that are located in our neighborhoods…The hope is to be able to stop the growth of those types of businesses that will have an adverse effect on the quality of air in our neighborhood.”
Stymying this high concentration of industrial businesses in the Historic West End is connected to policy. The Clean Air Carolina data can be used to influence the zoning practices happening in the Historic West End. “What we see in some of the data in our community is that there are pockets of pollutants. Those pockets seem to point to the industrial sites that put off a lot of particulate matter,” said Hughes. “What we would like to see is some of the zoning regulations be address so those areas that are dense with that type of pollution do not see more of it.” Hughes explained, “We don’t want it to be a cluster of pollutants in one area. This is why we have to start looking at zoning permits and the changes being made in the new Unified Development Ordinance.”