Citizen Science in Action

The AirKeepers Citizen Science Program engages students, teachers, and the general public in monitoring hyper-local levels of fine particle pollution (PM 2.5) using portable air sensors. Clean Air Carolina launched the program in Charlotte in 2016 with volunteers taking measurements at both fixed sites and during mobile sessions (walking, biking, etc.). Currently, sensors are being used with the data collected uploaded to websites allowing public viewing of the results. Looking forward, additional types of sensors monitoring fine particle pollution and ground-level ozone will be included in the program.

Why are we monitoring the air?

When we look at the daily air quality index to find out what the air quality will be on a particular day, the information is based on models with limited data. When state officials determine whether or not a particular region meets federal clean air standards for different air pollutants, they use a network of stationary monitors and take measurements over a three-year period.

North Carolina legislators have ordered the shutdown of many monitors over the last few years at the same time low-cost, portable monitor technologies have come on the market. The use of portable sensors to gather larger datasets gives scientists and researchers much more localized information about the quality of the air the local population is breathing.

The EPA is evaluating sensor technologies to determine their value in providing accurate data. Citizen science efforts, like Clean Air Carolina’s AirKeepers program, are playing a role in this contributory science effort.

Charlotte Pilot Project

The Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation has funded a targeted AirKeepers project in Charlotte’s Northwest Corridor, an area surrounded by freeways, a major source of air pollution. Additional funds have been provided by NC State University’s Community Human Health and the Environment Program.

This project brings together schools and neighborhood organizations along the Corridor in an innovative partnership to identify the extent of fine particle pollution students and residents are exposed to and develop awareness and action steps to reduce sources of the pollution. It is designed to protect residents and students in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) from the dangerous impacts of particle pollution and contribute to STEM learning at all age levels.

This two-year project uses AirBeam hand-held air quality sensors and android devices equipped with GPS—to create the Charlotte Habitat Air Quality Map at which will show variation in particle pollution both within the Corridor and elsewhere in Charlotte. Clean Air Carolina is working with four neighborhood organizations and five schools over a two-year period providing teacher and community resident training, educational resources, and monitoring technology.


Contact Program Manager Terry Lansdell to sponsor a monitor at a school, home or business across the state.

Plans for 2017

Our plans for 2017 are to:

  • create a network of monitors across the state to supplement state and federal monitors
  • monitor counties and areas without air quality monitors
  • work with the EPA to test the effectiveness of monitors and programs like ours and to establish collocation rules and protocols when using portable air monitors

Clean Air Carolina is one of the major leaders in the citizen science movement in North Carolina. We are making it easy for citizens, non-governmental organizations and businesses to monitor air quality in real time, making the invisible, visible.