air monitoring

Expanding the Village Green Project to Measure Local Air Quality

By Esteban Herrera, Gayle Hagler and John White

VG Station in Philadelphia, PA

Village Green Station in Philadelphia, PA

We have been busy for a few years with the Village Green Project, exploring new ways of measuring air pollution using next generation air quality technology put into a park bench. After testing our first Village Green station in Durham, N.C., we are now in the process of building and installing new stations with some design improvements and modifications.

The Village Green Project expansion is being made possible with the support of state and local partners across the country. Five new locations for stations have been selected through a nationwide proposal process open to local and state air monitoring agencies.

Today, EPA announced the partners and location for the new stations and held a ribbon-cutting ceremony in Philadelphia, Pa. for one of the five stations.

The Village Green Project has many benefits. It enables EPA’s scientists to further test their new measurement system, built into a park bench, and it provides an opportunity for the public and students to learn more about the technology and local air quality.

Each station provides data every minute on two common air pollutants – fine particle pollution and ozone – and weather conditions such as wind speed and direction, temperature, and relative humidity. The data are automatically streamed to the Village Green Project web page. You can access the data generated by stations as they come on line at www.epa.gov/villagegreen. As members of a team working on the Village Green Project at EPA, we have been doing a lot of coordination and tackled some difficult scientific challenges to get this project launched. But it is all coming together as we get the stations installed. We think it will be a great opportunity for educational outreach and to showcase some new capabilities for communities to learn more about their local air quality. These monitoring stations will enable communities to get information about nearby sources of air pollution that can impact local air quality.

VG Station in Washington, DC

Washington, DC

The five station locations being installed in 2015 as part of the local and state partnership are:

  • Philadelphia, Pa. – the station is located in Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia owned by the National Park Service.
  • Washington, D.C. – the station is located in a children’s area at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park.
  • Kansas City, Kan.- the station is located outside of the new South Branch public library in Kansas City.
  • Hartford, Conn. – the station will be located outside of the Connecticut Science Center and will be installed in the summer or early fall of 2015.
  • Oklahoma City, Okla. – the station will be located in the children’s garden of the Myriad Botanical Gardens and will be installed in the summer or early fall of 2015.
VG Station in Kansas City, KS

Kansas City, KS

So what is next? We are excited about the expansion of the Village Green Project and hope to learn how some of the new system features perform, such as a combined wind and solar power system we’re using for more northern locations. We hope the project will provide more knowledge about how to build and operate next generation air quality measurement systems for use by communities. Please stay tuned for more updates from the Village Green Project team members as we continue our learning journey.

 

About the Authors: Esteban Herrera is an environmental engineer and project lead for the Village Green Project. Gayle Hagler is an environmental engineer who studies air pollutant emissions and measurement technologies. John White is leading the effort of expanding AirNow’s capabilities to handle one-minute data, including data from the Village Green stations.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Village Green Project: What’s in our Air?

By Ronald Williams

What’s in our air? It’s made up of 78 percent nitrogen, 21 percent oxygen, and one percent other gases such as carbon dioxide.  An even smaller contribution comes from gaseous air pollutants such as ozone or carbon monoxide.  In addition to the gases, air contains tiny particles from both natural and man-made processes.

In the Village Green Project, my EPA colleagues and I are developing a community-based system that repeatedly measures select gases and particles so residents can monitor local air quality and know what’s in their air.

Here are three important components:

Ozone
Knowing daily changes in ozone concentrations is very important, especially to those with respiratory illnesses such as asthma.  Ozone is generally highest on sunny summer days, when sunlight fuels atmospheric chemistry and generates ozone from a mixture of emissions.   The Village Green monitor will report ozone many times during the course of the day, showing how ozone levels go up and down based upon air pollution emissions and sunlight.

Particulate Matter

Particulate matter. For a larger version, go to: http://1.usa.gov/14hbTWp

All of us are exposed to particulate matter from a wide variety of local and distant sources.  After being produced, particles can transport hundreds of miles.  We encounter it in our homes, in our cars, in our work places, and out in our yards.  Understanding how it changes in the environment on a day-by-day and even hour-by-hour basis will help local citizens be better informed about this pollutant, which has been associated with a wide variety of human health effects.

Black Carbon
There’s an old saying that ‘everyone complains about the weather, but no one ever does anything about it.’ Now here’s our chance to learn about a pollutant that may affect our climate and is also important for health. Scientists now know that combustion products, such as black carbon, have the potential to influence climate change.  Black carbon is also a good indicator of emissions from fuel-burning, including from vehicles, forest fires, and smoking.  By monitoring black carbon levels in local air, the Village Green Project will help increase our understanding of links between local pollution sources and their impact on black carbon.

Even before the monitor is up and running, we’ve received regular inquiries about the Village Green Project from community groups, environmental scientists and those involved in air quality research.  Cleary, we’ve struck a nerve with citizens, and the desire of local communities to know what’s in their air and gain information about local air quality is ever-growing!

We expect the Village Green monitor will be operating this summer.  Stay tuned to this blog for more (and for our future web site) as we move forward.

About the Author: Ron Williams is an exposure science researcher who is studying how people are exposed to air pollutants and methods to measure personal exposure.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Village Green Project and Use of Sustainable Energy

By Ron Williams and Bill Mitchell

Watts up, everyone? Welcome back to the Village Green Project and learn about science as it happens at EPA! For those just joining us, EPA researchers in North Carolina are designing and building a low-cost air quality monitoring system from the ground up that can be provide local air quality data to a community.

One of our project goals is to design an air quality monitoring system that is fully self-powered and can operate for a long period of time using very little energy.

Our solution: solar power. We have identified a design that will include sustainable energy (solar power) and features that will allow the monitoring system to operate for long periods of time during the night and when it is cloudy.

One of the first things we had to do was determine how much power is needed to run a large number of environmental monitors and to transmit data from the system to our web site where we hope to make data available. Our first design shows that we will need 15 Watts to fully power all of the electrical parts (sensors, fans, control circuits, communication link).

We identified two highly efficient solar panels that we can use that are 26 inches by 41 inches in size. They are small enough for the monitor and can generate up to 60 Watts of power. The extra power that is generated can be stored in a battery for the solar cells to use when conditions are not favorable, like cloudy days. The rechargeable 12-volt battery is about the size of a car battery. This was good news as we wanted to avoid having a field of solar panels that would drive up the operating cost.

We think we worked it out on paper—now the challenge will be to see what happens when we piece it all together.  Stay tuned for more updates on our discovery process.

About the Authors: Ron Williams is an exposure science researcher who is studying how people are exposed to air pollutants and methods to measure personal exposure. Bill Mitchell is an electronics expert who provides support to a variety of air pollution research projects.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Welcome to the Village Green Project!

Welcome to the Village Green Project, an EPA exploration into new ways of measuring air pollution.

We are Gayle Hagler and Ronald Williams, researchers on the Village Green Project team. We and others on the team will blog periodically to share the goals and challenges of the project and invite you to learn more about the work.

Check out the video clips with this blog and meet us. We are excited to be sharing our discovery process for this research project with you.

The goal of the pilot project is to design and build a low-cost, solar-powered air monitoring system that will take continuous readings of several air pollutants and weather conditions and provide data to the public every five minutes.  The project is breaking ground on many fronts and is a challenging and fun puzzle, requiring a mix of tinkering skills, strategic shopping know-how, and an eye for design.

The Village Green Project got its name from history when village greens were the heart of a town where citizens came together. We borrowed the concept because our research provides the science and technology to assess air quality and support sustainable communities.

There are some important conditions that the Village Green prototype must meet: the design has to be low maintenance, energy efficient, low cost and provide real-time data. And, of course, we need to prove the system works and provides reliable data.

We are also exploring several designs that will fit into a community setting, such as a park bench with solar panels providing shade over the bench, or a play structure.  After development, we plan to install and test the first prototype in the Research Triangle area this year.

There are many technical challenges to the project. Some of the goals and questions the team has been grappling with include:

  • Low cost to install and run – Can we run the entire system on solar or wind power? Can we make measurements without needing extra laboratory work or frequent visits to maintain instruments?
  • Real-time data – How can we provide air quality measurements in minutes or hours rather than days? This will enable researchers and community members to study changes in air pollution over time.
  • Public engagement – Can we design the structure to be suitable for a public park, playground or other outdoor environment? How can we engage someone visiting the station to learn about air-quality science?
  • Sharing the data – How can we send the measurements and process the data? How can we engage citizens in this project and make it interesting for them to learn about the science behind air quality monitoring?

Members of our research team will continue to post updates here on It All Starts with Science as we work through these challenges!  Stay tuned to learn more about the technology we are exploring, the science behind the measurements and how the prototype development process goes!

About the Authors: Ronald Williams is an exposure science researcher who is studying how people are exposed to air pollutants and methods to measure personal exposure.  Gayle Hagler is an environmental engineer who studies air pollutant emissions and measurement technologies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Sensors and Sensibility

By Vasu Kilaru

Around us every day are technologies that give us access to more information at our fingertips than any generation has ever had.  As an EPA scientist, I’m pretty thrilled about these innovations and what they mean for environmental protection.

One exciting new initiative in that realm here at EPA is called Apps and Sensors for Air Pollution or ASAP. This new aspect of our research came out of the recognition that the advances in sensor technologies are unfolding at the same amazing pace that we all see with new cellphone and smartphone technologies.

Cellphones already have a variety of sensors built in:  light sensors and proximity sensors to manage display brightness, accelerometers used as switches or to characterize motion, GPS to provide mapping and locational services, compass and gyroscope to provide direction and orientation, microphones for audio, and a camera for video/photography.

These capabilities have led to the logical coupling of other sensors, such as for air pollution monitoring or biometric measurements, with smartphones.

Traditionally, air monitoring technologies were costly to setup and maintain, and therefore the purview of governments (federal and state). Now, new miniaturized sensor technologies are approaching consumer budgets and have the advantage of being highly portable. These developments in sensor technology present an exciting new frontier where monitoring will be more democratized and available much more widely. Parallel to these developments are sensors that measure physiological conditions such as heart rate or blood oxygen levels.

Pairing environmental sensors with ones that measure biological conditions could herald a new era for both environmental protection as well as healthcare. Future developments in these sensor technologies ultimately have the capacity to help people make better decisions regarding their environment and their own health.

So we are excited to do our part in bring new technologies to you.  If you’re going to the World Maker Faire in New York this weekend (September 29-30), stop by our EPA booth, we’d love to talk about how DIYers, makers, inventors can help make a greener future.

About the Author: Vasu Kilaru works in EPA’s Office of Research and Development (ORD). He is currently working on the apps and sensors for air pollution initiative (ASAP) helping the Agency develop its strategic role and response to new sensor technology developments.


Enjoyed reading about the scientific pursuits at the EPA? Then consider checking out our  It All Starts with Science blog regularly.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Sensors and Sensibility

By Vasu Kilaru

Around us every day are technologies that give us access to more information at our fingertips than any generation has ever had.  As an EPA scientist, I’m pretty thrilled about these innovations and what they mean for environmental protection.

One exciting new initiative in that realm here at EPA is called Apps and Sensors for Air Pollution or ASAP. This new aspect of our research came out of the recognition that the advances in sensor technologies are unfolding at the same amazing pace that we all see with new cellphone and smartphone technologies.

Cellphones already have a variety of sensors built in:  light sensors and proximity sensors to manage display brightness, accelerometers used as switches or to characterize motion, GPS to provide mapping and locational services, compass and gyroscope to provide direction and orientation, microphones for audio, and a camera for video/photography.

These capabilities have led to the logical coupling of other sensors, such as for air pollution monitoring or biometric measurements, with smartphones.

Traditionally, air monitoring technologies were costly to setup and maintain, and therefore were put under the purview of governments (federal and state). Now, new miniature sensor technologies are more affordable and have the advantage of being highly portable. These developments in sensor technology present an exciting new frontier where monitoring will be more democratic and available much more widely. Parallel to these developments are sensors that measure physiological conditions such as heart rate or blood oxygen levels.

Pairing environmental sensors with ones that measure biological conditions could herald a new era for both environmental protection as well as healthcare. Future developments in these sensor technologies ultimately have the capacity to help people make better decisions regarding their environment and their own health.

So we are excited to do our part in bringing new technologies to you.  If you’re going to the World Maker Faire in New York this weekend (September 29-30), stop by our EPA booth, we’d love to talk about how DIYers, makers, inventors can help make a greener future.

About the Author: Vasu Kilaru works in EPA’s Office of Research and Development. He is currently working on the apps and sensors for air pollution initiative (ASAP) helping the Agency develop its strategic role and response to new sensor technology developments.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Rare Human Species Sighted in the NYC Metro Area!

By Paula Zevin

Stop the presses! This is major news and must be reported on the spot!

It seems that the workshops held at EPA Region 2’s New York City Headquarters and at the Edison Environmental Center in New Jersey on June 19 and 20, 2012 respectively, have lead to sightings of an elusive human species: homo sapiens civis naturalis.

Homo sapiens civis naturalis

In laymen’s language this would be the Citizen Scientist. Yes, we knew that they were out there, performing such valuable work as mapping local waterways, monitoring for indoor air quality, assessing bacteria in the Hudson River or the water quality of Pompeston Creek in southern New Jersey, and educating at-risk communities about pollutants in their midst and how to improve conditions. Moreover, they seem to have found their ways into cities and suburbs in equal measure.

The Citizen Science workshops, the very first ones to be sponsored by EPA Region 2 and held under the aegis of our Regional Administrator, Judith Enck, and of the Director of the Division of Environmental Science and Assessment, Deb Szaro, were an unequivocal success. The agenda featured similar tracks for both the City and Edison sessions: on what to consider when starting a volunteer monitoring group, success stories for groups monitoring the air, water and habitat in New York and New Jersey, information on funding, academic/state government partnerships with non-profit organizations, data use by States and data interpretation, an intro to Quality Assurance, tools of the future and instrument and web tools demos. Conference feedback has been very positive and we have learned a few valuable lessons for the future of these workshops. More information will become available in the near future on a new web site specifically dedicated to Citizen Science, on Region 2’s social media outlets (Facebook, Twitter, this blog), and through a Wiki. If anyone is interested in finding out more about this topic, please contact Pat Sheridan (sheridan.patricia@epa.gov).

How, do you ask, did we manage to lure h.sapiens civis naturalis out into the open and into our workshops? Well, studies have shown that this elusive species is very attracted to a food group collectively known as MAGIC BARS.

Amazing, isn’t it? This delicious food group boasts a large number of recipes with variations on the same, delectable ingredients: shredded coconut, chocolate chips, roasted or toasted chopped nuts, sweet condensed milk and a buttery crust to hold everything together. It appears that Deb’s recipe is irresistible to most, if not all h.sapiens civis naturalis and the siren song of those lovely morsels brought out the best in them. I’m pretty sure that there are a few secret specimens within the ranks of EPA, State and Local Governments, as well as in academia, because there were a couple of near-fights over who got corners or the last pieces.

Fortunately, all is well that ends well. Civility prevailed and with the assurance of future events, featuring interesting topics and Deb’s Magic Bars, the two days concluded peacefully. If you’d like to conduct your own anthropological or scientific studies, let us know, we will share the super-secret recipe with you. Hush, just don’t tell anyone else…

About the author: Paula Zevin is currently an Environmental Engineer in the Division of Environmental Science and Assessment at the Edison Environmental Center. Her work is centered on the technical and programmatic aspects of ambient water monitoring. She is also the volunteer water monitoring coordinator for EPA Region 2. Paula has been with EPA since 1991, and has worked in the chemical, pharmaceutical, textile and cosmetic industries prior to joining EPA.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.