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Citizen scientists have been testing air in their communities for years. Citizen science air monitoring projects can take place indoors or outdoors. Several types of air pollutants can be present in the air. Examples of air pollutants that have been examined by citizen scientists include volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and particulate matter, also known as particle pollution or PM. Both of these pollutants can come from any number of sources. Citizens interested in testing these or any other air pollutants in their communities should look at the following links before starting their Citizen Science project:
There are several different types of air monitoring and sampling equipment that have been used in citizen science work. A general description of monitoring and sampling equipment is below:
Passive monitors - Passive monitors absorb airborne pollutants onto a reactive material (for example, a sorbent tube or filter) for subsequent laboratory analysis. These are simple to use monitors that do not require a pump to collect pollutants. This type of monitor has been used for personal exposure monitoring or work space monitoring.
Personal air monitors - Personal air monitors use a pump to draw air through a filter or reactive material that is later analyzed by a laboratory. Direct measuring personal air monitors can also be used. These monitors are generally portable enough to be carried by an individual.
Grab-sampler - A grab-sampler is a self-contained device that collects air samples without the use of a pump. An example of this type of monitor is a canister under vacuum. The canister relies on its own vacuum to draw in air until it comes to ambient pressure. A grab sample is analyzed in a laboratory.
Integrated air sampling device - An integrated air sampler uses a pump to draw an air sample across a reactive material or into a collection vessel (for example a canister). The pump can be programmed to run for a preset period of time. The air sample is analyzed in a laboratory.
Direct-read monitor - A direct-read monitor uses a pump to draw an air sample through a detector. The monitor provides a direct reading of pollutants. The monitor may be designed as a table-top unit or it may be rack-mounted such as for use in an air monitoring station.
Automated monitoring system - This is a fully automated system to sample the air, analyze for the pollutant of interest, and report the resulting data. Calibration of the analyzer (for example, gas chromatograph, mass spectrometer) is also automatic. Analyzer control and data retrieval may be performed remotely.
Air deposition monitor - Air deposition monitors collect samples that “fall” from the air. There are two major types of deposition monitors in use: precipitation collectors for wet deposition; and air samplers to measure toxics in the particulate and vapor phases. The air deposition network is generally comprised of active and passive, wet and dry sampling systems.
- Other Resources:
- Avraham Teitz – EPA Region 2/DESA – Ambient Air Monitoring: Measurement and Uncertainty [PDF 4.1 MB, 56 pp]
- Ron Williams - EPA/Office of Research and Development (ORD) – Why Sensor Performance Matters [PDF362 KB, 20 pp]
- In 2012, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) launched a new community-based program working with volunteers from local communities to screen for toxic air pollutants in order to begin to address some local air quality concerns. The goal of the Community Air Screen (CAS) program is for community groups and citizens to partner with NYSDEC to collect local-scale air samples. To learn more, please visit the sites below
- Current EPA Region 2 Air Programs Citizen Science Projects [PDF 18 KB, 1pp] (Attachment A)
- AirNow – provides Air Quality Index conditions and forecasts for 300 cities across the US
- MyEnvironment – Great site that gathers data from EPA and other resources in an easily used platform for your area code – includes MyAir, MyWater, MyHealth, MyEnergy and MyCommunity
- Green Apps – List of available environmental apps for Apple, Android, Blackberry, Windows and web. User can filter for Topic, i.e. “air”
- US EPA Region 2 Guidance for the Development of Quality Assurance Project Plans (QAPPs) for Citizen Science Projects [PDF 70K, 25 pp]
From an interview with Kim Gaddy, Kids Clean Air Zone/ NJ Environmental Federation (Newark, NJ)
You can view Kim’s 2012 Citizen Science Workshop Presentation here.
“I am a resident of the city of Newark and in 2005 we did an air monitoring project that focused on areas where our children recreate and the amount of pollution that they are exposed to. What we did as a part of our project, the Kids Clean Air Zones, is we actually counted the amount of trucks that traveled through three to four different locations in the city of Newark.”
“The main goal of the study was to bring exposure to the fact that -- in the city of Newark and most urban communities -- one out of four children are asthmatic.” “We found that by tracking the amount of pollution that came out of the tailpipes, we could see the how the levels of soot and particulate matter were very high. And that that impact would in fact harm the residents of the City of Newark and more particular anyone with a compromised immune system. And so we labeled [the most impacted zones as] Kids Clean Air Zones.”
“My favorite part of what I do is being able to advocate for residents in the City of Newark and more importantly African American and minorities. Often times folks that traditional environmental organizations do not have people of color speaking about the environmental issues. And so as a person who is a fourth generation Newarker …[it] is my responsibility, that all of us no matter where we live, no matter what our income is, no matter what the color of our skin is, can live a healthy productive life in vibrant communities that do not harm us. And so that is why I love what I do and I work each and every day to spread that message.”