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Air quality groups adding additional monitors with grants


By Elizabeth Perry

A grant to buy air quality monitors for a coalition of grassroots environmental organizations will close gaps in the existing web of citizen researchers gathering data.

Seven area nonprofit groups received nearly $500,000 from the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency to obtain between 92 to 96 monitors, according to Patrick Campbell, Group Against Smog and Pollution executive director.

“It is a means of telling a broader narrative tying qualitative and quantitative data together,” Campbell said.

Currently, there are more than 1,000 people reporting on their air quality in the region either via Carnegie Mellon’s Smell PGH app or with Purple Air monitors according to a BREATHE press release.

Karen Grzywinski of Allegheny County Clean Air Now said in the release she is hopeful the funding will help provide answers to residents in and around the Neville Island area who have long wondered what’s in their air.

“Our health department has referred to Neville Island as a pollution ‘hot spot’ in Allegheny County – second only to Clairton Coke Works,” she said in the release. “It's time we identified what residents are being exposed to and what industries are responsible.”

Purple Air is a company that manufactures machines that monitor air quality. The Utah-based business began in 2016 and currently, there is a network of 30,000 sensors nationwide, according to the company website. The monitors are less expensive and less complex than older versions of the technology.

“That’s what we’re using around the Shell plant,” Deb Smit, communications manager for the BREATHE project said.

Smit explained residents can easily register air quality at home, “right outside their door.”

“It’s a fabulous program,” Smit said.

The grant recipients include the applicant, GASP based in Edgewood, ACCAN in Neville Township, Birmingham/Uptown Clean Air Group, Breathe Project, Clean Water Fund, CREATE Lab, Protect Elizabeth Township, and Valley Clean Air Now. The funding is part of the American Rescue Plan to enhance air quality monitoring in communities across the United States. The Environmental Protection Agency awarded more than $1.86 million to groups in Southwest Pennsylvania to support air monitoring efforts.

GASP, founded in 1969, has primarily been an educational organization. Campbell said they had the most experience applying for grants of the participating organizations, and they supported an EPA grant-funded camp to teach children about air pollution. GASP counts among its recent victories a Nov. 5 revision to air control regulations which allow for the collection of data about air pollution.

As previously reported in Gazette 2.0, ACCAN has successfully worked with CREATE Lab, before on the “Shenango Channel,” a project which documented unsafe emissions at the former Shenango Coke site using round-the-clock video recording and other monitoring tools. The results prompted citations from Allegheny County’s health department in 2016 and the plant shuttered shortly after.


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