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Planning and Implementing a Real-time Air Pollution Monitoring and Outreach Program for Your Community The AirBeat Project of Roxbury, Massachusetts (87 pp, 3.3 MB) November 2002
Planning for the AirBeat project began in 1997 and 1998. EMPACT began funding AirBeat in 1999, and that spring the project started operating its air pollution monitoring station in the center of Roxbury. Real-time delivery of air quality data began in 2000 with the launch of the AirBeat Web site and telephone hotline system. AirBeat focused on the Roxbury neighborhood for two reasons. First, there has been heightened concern over outdoor air quality in Roxbury due to high rates of asthma and other respiratory illnesses. And second, there are a number of strong community organizations in Roxbury that have been working for years on a variety of environmental health and justice issues.
In this handbook, the term "real time" is used to indicate that data are presented to the public almost as soon as they are collected, with only a slight delay for data processing and quality assurance. AirBeat reports pollutant concentrations as hourly averages, with results generally made available to the public within 15 minutes of the end of the averaging period. Roxbury is a heavily urbanized neighborhood. Its population of 60,000 people is about 70 percent African American and 18 percent Latino. The poverty rate is more than 30 percent in the neighborhood and 45 percent for children under 18 (U.S. Census Report, 1990). Environmental concerns in Roxbury include high traffic volumes, vacant lots, illegal trash dumps, and pollution from autobody shops.
In the mid 1990s, concern over outdoor air quality in Roxbury began to focus on motor vehicles, especially exhaust from diesel trucks and buses. Research conducted in 1996 revealed that there were more than 15 truck and bus depots within a one-mile radius of Roxbury, garaging more than 1,150 diesel vehicles. In 1997, local environmental and community organizations formed a coalition called Clean Buses for Boston to pressure the regional transit agency to convert its bus fleet from diesel to cleaner alternatives. Some of these organizations also began discussions with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MA DEP) aimed at establishing an ambient air quality monitoring station in Roxbury. AirBeat's monitoring and outreach project grew out of these efforts. In 1998, MA DEP decided to set up a monitoring station in the Dudley Square area of Roxbury (see map) to measure levels of PM2.5 in the ambient air. The station was to be part of MA DEP's statewide monitoring network. With funding from an EMPACT grant, the AirBeat team was able to expand the Dudley Square monitoring effort to include continuous measurements of PM2.5, ground-level ozone, and black carbon soot (BC). (Black carbon, a component of PM2.5, was chosen because it is a strong indicator of local diesel emissions. See Section 3.3 for more information about BC.) The team also decided to set up a state-of-the-art data management and delivery system so that the Dudley Square monitoring station would be the first station in the commonwealth to present air quality data to the public in real time, using a Web site (http://www.airbeat.org) and other communication venues. In addition, the AirBeat team planned an extensive outreach program to educate the public about the connections between air pollution and health effects.
The AirBeat project is a partnership between:
- Alternatives for Community & Environment (ACE), a Roxbury-based, non-profit environmental justice organization that coordinates AirBeat's education and outreach efforts.
- Harvard University School of Public Health, which developed some of the innovative instrumentation set-ups for the AirBeat monitoring station and shared responsibility for implementing the real-time measurements.
- MA DEP, which operates 42 ambient air monitoring stations throughout Massachusetts and has overall responsibility for the Roxbury station.
- Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management (NESCAUM), an interstate association of air quality control agencies that managed AirBeat's data management and mapping efforts and the development of the project's Web site and hotline.
- Suffolk County Conservation District, which acted as the lead agency, responsible for coordinating the AirBeat project. Chapters 4 through 7 of this handbook provide more details about the roles each of these partners played in the AirBeat project.
About This Handbook
A number of communities throughout the United States have expressed interest in beginning projects similar to AirBeat. The purpose of this handbook is to help interested communities and organizations learn more about AirBeat and to provide them with the technical information they need to develop their own programs. The Technology Transfer and Support Division of the EPA Office of Research and Development's (ORD's) National Risk Management Research Laboratory initiated the development of this handbook in collaboration with EPA's Office of Environmental Information. ORD, working with AirBeat's project partners, produced the handbook to leverage EMPACT's investment in the project and minimize the resources needed to implement similar projects in new areas.