AirKeeper Story: Ed Barrows

Sep 4, 2018

I first heard about the Clean Air Carolina PurpleAir monitors on one of the regular Carolinas Integrated Sciences and Assessments teleconferences discussing the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network Drought Reporting program (CoCoRHaS). I looked Clean Air Carolina up on the web and read about the Purple Air monitors around North Carolina.

As I had worked on air quality monitoring with the Environmental Protection Agency many years ago, I had some feeling for the available technology back then and had some memory of the problems we faced with understanding the data. I submitted an application and after a phone call, Clean Air Carolina sent me two PurpleAir monitors which I have installed near my CoCoRHaS rain gauges at my home in Holly Springs and at our cabin in Seven Devils in the mountains.

Real-Time Air Quality

These miraculous little samplers are providing real time readings of several air quality indexes through the web. All I’m providing is a location, a minuscule amount of electricity and a link to my wireless network. In return, I’m getting quite an education in particulate monitoring and I am contributing to the databases for research purposes, an all-around great deal if you ask me.

Understanding the data being generated has proven to be quite challenging, first because there’s so much of it being generated in real time and, secondly, in trying to map reported peaks and valleys to observed conditions. I’ve seen a spike after running my lawnmower under the detector. I can understand that and was relieved to see the spike was very short lived. I’ve also seen spikes with the passage of a cold front, something I’m still thinking about – as the air is usually cooler, dryer and more pleasant after the cold front passes. I have also noted that rain seems to actually help clear the air of particulate matter.

Risks and Rewards

I’ve also seen a number of recent articles about the health impacts of pm 2.5 pollution in humans so it’s clearly a field that has a large impact and is rapidly evolving. I read these articles because I’m more aware of the particulates in the atmosphere because I’m generating these continual measurements. Clearly, pm 2.5 particles have an adverse impact on human (and by extension, all other) life. The notion that I’m capturing data that may help with the understanding and eventual elimination of a significant health risk is very rewarding. Become an AirKeeper!

Career scientist Ed Barrows, a former longtime air quality scientist with the Environmental Protection Agency, is a Clean Air Carolina AirKeeper in Holly Springs.