EPA Awards $1 Million to UAlbany Researchers for Community Air Pollution Monitoring Projects
By Mike Nolan
ALBANY, N.Y. (Nov. 17, 2022) — Researchers at the University at Albany’s Atmospheric Sciences Research Center and College of Engineering and Applied Sciences are receiving $1 million in support from the U.S. Environmental Agency (EPA) to conduct community air quality monitoring projects.
In total, the EPA has awarded $53.4 million to 132 projects in 37 states through President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act and American Rescue Plan — the largest investment for community air monitoring in the agency’s history.
The projects are focused on enhancing air quality monitoring in communities across the U.S. in areas that are underserved, historically marginalized and overburdened by pollution, supporting President Biden’s Justice40 Initiative.
Funding will support two UAlbany projects, including:
- $499,032 to create a New York Capital District communities air quality measurement network, which will be built based on low-cost sensors outdoor/indoor measurements, with K-12 schools serving as monitoring sites and supplemented by mobile lab measurements. The principal investigator is Jie Zang, a research scientist at the Atmospheric Sciences Research Center.
- $499,939 to improve air quality and public health across underserved neighborhoods in New York by leveraging low-cost sensor monitoring to determine air pollutant exposures and engage and empower community stakeholders. The principal investigator is Md Aynul Bari, an assistant professor in the Department of Environmental & Sustainable Engineering.
UAlbany received nearly one third of the $3.4 million in funding that was awarded to seven projects in New York.
“Air quality is a key societal problem that will continue to be exacerbated by climate change and increased urbanization,” said Chris Thorncroft, director of the Atmospheric Sciences Research Center. “We are proud to be selected as part of the EPA’s large investment in air quality monitoring projects across the U.S. that will help inform policy decisions and drive better practices for protecting vulnerable populations, including minority and low-income communities that face a disproportionate amount of pollution.”
“These projects, led by some of our many community-engaged faculty members, are expected to have a near-term, direct impact on residents in the partnering regions,” said Michele Grimm, dean of the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences. “It demonstrates how advances in engineering and environmental justice can occur in tandem — and it addresses two of UAlbany’s signature strengths: health disparities and climate science.”
Capital District Air Quality Measurement Network
While there has been increasingly widespread use of low-cost sensor networks to determine air quality, communities sampled are mainly located in large urban metro areas. Further, underserved communities often have a limited number of monitoring stations due to their cost, infrastructure, and personnel requirements.
To help address this issue, researchers at UAlbany have proposed to build a new air quality measurement network in or near underserved and low-income communities using a low-cost-sensors package.
Five schools in the Albany, Troy and Schenectady districts will be selected to serve as host locations for both indoor and outdoor monitoring stations. In addition, a specialized mobile laboratory will be used for short-term measurement deployments, providing additional air pollution information to complement the monitoring stations.
The study proposes two years of continuous measurements of air pollutants such as fine particulate matter (PM2.5), ozone, carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide.
“Throughout the U.S., lower-income, minority and marginalized populations experience higher pollution exposure levels and associated adverse health effects. These communities often live near major air pollution sources, including industrial facilities, major roadways and ports,” said Zhang.
“In our study, we will identify underserved communities with high pollution levels in New York’s Capital Region. The data and results will be shown to community leaders to increase awareness of their surrounding air quality burdens. More importantly, it will be shown to the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation to point out air pollution sources and exposure levels in these underserved communities, along with offering possible ways to reduce the air pollution burden,” he added.
Other study collaborators include Jim Schwab of the Atmospheric Sciences Research Center and Md. Aynul Bari.
Improving Air Quality and Public Health Across New York
In the U.S., current air quality observation networks are limited in measuring pollutants including climate-driven black carbon and other air toxics across regional to neighborhood scales.
A new three-year project led by UAlbany researchers is proposing to improve air quality and public health across underserved neighborhoods in New York through low-cost sensor monitoring, integrated measurement and community engagement.
The key approaches will include: leveraging low-cost sensor air monitoring through at least 21 fixed sites over a two-year period, including nine New York State Mesonet weather stations; identifying and engaging community stakeholders; expanding knowledge of local air quality by arranging community workshops and webinars; measuring outdoor (backyard) and indoor air concentrations from at least 200 homes in (or near) underserved communities over a two-year period; time-integrated outdoor and indoor sampling for air toxics at neighborhood communities; and identifying impacts of local and regional sources through receptor and source-oriented modeling.
“Climate change can affect the air we breathe in both ambient and indoor environments, with studies indicating that minority and low-income communities of color are disproportionally burdened with exposure to air pollution,” said Bari. “Our goal with this project is to bring together underserved neighborhoods in the core Capital Region, Hudson Valley and New York City to develop a community air quality program that will serve as a national role model.”
“Findings of this project will support policymakers for developing appropriate management initiatives to improve air quality at underserved communities across the state,” he added.
Other study collaborators include Brian Pavilonis of the City University of New York (CUNY) and Scott Miller and Sarah Lu of the Atmospheric Sciences Research Center.