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Welcome to the Village Green Project!

2013 January 8

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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20 Responses leave one →
  1. mike horner permalink
    January 9, 2013

    I was wondering if your project would include measuring changes in background radiation levels. In the northwest there have been elevated radiation levels attributed to the ongoing Fukushima disaster and potential radiation releases from waste shipments proposed for the Hanford site in SE Washington.

    • It All Starts with Science (editor) permalink*
      January 11, 2013

      Mike Horner: we checked in with Gayle Hagler. Here’s her response:

      “Thank you for sharing this thought. The prototype currently does not include a radiation level measurement, however we are always open to suggestions for future versions. Planned measurements for the first prototype include particulate matter (PM2.5 and black carbon), ozone, and weather (wind speed and direction, temperature, humidity).”

      • John Ross permalink
        January 16, 2013

        Gayle, can you comment on what instrumentation you’re actually using? Especially for the PM, BC and O3 measurements. I’m interested in how robust and low-maintenance these can be.


  2. Master Melvin M. Lusterio permalink
    January 9, 2013

    The Good Force be with you!

    Good job! Reducing air pollutions in our environment helps a lot in maintaining our good health. The fresh air we breathe makes our body more lively.

    Live forever and prosper!

    • It All Starts with Science (editor) permalink*
      January 11, 2013

      Thank you for your comment. Yes, air quality certainly has been shown in research studies to have significant impacts on human health.

  3. Brian Kasher permalink
    January 12, 2013

    This is very exciting work. It is important to keep the data meaningful and thus actionable over time. Direct read instruments can certainly be powered by solar and wind power. But will they maintain reasonable calibration, will sensors need maintenance and will the constituents measured be relative to the local area the data represents? For instance temperature is an interesting measure. However, temperature and relative humidity provide much more information. Ozone, particulate matter, pollen, mold, NOX and more could have localized significance especially if data logged. Proximity to street and highway traffic, industrial activity or even forestation could have impact on data interpretation. High levels of mold spores down wind from a Forrest would potentially have different meaning than high levels of mold in the center of an asphalt wasteland. Ozone spikes at rush hour on a sunny day might not be surprising but in the middle of the night would be. Keeping it simple while meaningful at the local level seems to be the challenge here. One useful aspect could be to allow stations to dial in data from other stations for bench marking. An inner city station being able to see data from a suburban station and then a rural station would provide the basis for analysis and social engagement. Good luck and best wishes. B

    • Gayle Hagler permalink
      January 16, 2013

      These are great comments and touch on a number of issues the team is thinking through. Our menu of measurement technologies is restricted to the system demands of being low-power, low maintenance, maintaining calibration, providing direct readings, and as you mentioned, having significance. You can imagine that those requirements end up eliminating a number of options. For example, we’re concerned about the ability for some of the current gas-phase instruments (e.g., trace-level carbon monoxide) to maintain calibration under varying environmental conditions – in air quality research stations, those types of instruments are kept at a relatively constant temperature and usually checked frequently using certified compressed gas cylinders. We are restricting the candidate technologies for the prototype system to ones that fit the requirements and have had proven success in research studies; however, part our work will be to see how the instruments perform in this set-up. Data interpretation is also an issue we are thinking about quite a bit. This is intended to be a research, not regulatory, measurement system and the real-time data will likely have some interesting patterns to it. One way of interpreting the data is to consider how the measurements vary with time (time of day, day of week, month of year) and weather (wind speed and direction, temperature, humidity). Interpreting this data is an opportunity to learn about air quality chemistry and physics. If there are multiple of these stations running, we agree it would be very interesting to benchmark the stations against each other and hope to build the website infrastructure to allow this type of exploration.

  4. Richard Walker permalink
    January 14, 2013

    Hey Gail and Ron, Along with your solar panels and wind generation to charge your storage batteries, have you explored the idea of challenging the citizens on the green to a power for data support ride on an exercise generator bike ergo meter. It could be set up as an exercise station in the park.

    The station could have different size bikes and hand or seat pedal generators for children and the elderly to work out and contribute power. Actually, I think these may exist commercially already. Just a thought? They may be cost prohibitive.


    • Aaron@epa permalink*
      January 14, 2013

      Thanks for the comment, Richard! Gayle Hagler asked me to pass along her reply:

      Thanks for the comment! A person-powered system was actually one of our original brainstorms, where you could engage people into physically interacting with the system. However, you are correct that this approach is likely more expensive, more complex, and may be less reliable, depending on where the station is located. We certainly have it as an option we’re interested in keeping on the table in the future.

  5. Steve permalink
    January 16, 2013

    Are these going to be compliant with 40 CFR Part 50? Thefollowing for example:

    “To demonstrate attainment, the annual arithmetic mean and the second-highest 24-hour averages must be based upon hourly data that are at least 75 percent complete in each calendar quarter. A 24-hour block average shall be considered valid if at least 75 percent of the hourly averages for the 24-hour period are available. ”

    If they do not meet the same requirements for demonstrating compliance with the NAAQS then they are bogus but the public will not understand.

    Monitors with insufficient data could result in NAAQS violations:

    “(8-hour periods with three or more missing hours shall not be ignored if, after substituting one-half the minimum detectable limit for the missing hourly concentrations, the 8-hour average concentration is greater than the level of the standard.) ”

    All the goals outlined cannot meet the requirements of EPA. Data completion will preculde solar power only. Having solar power and power from the grid will increase cost.

    It is a bad idea to put such important data in the hands of the general public.

    • Aaron at EPA (blog editor) permalink*
      January 17, 2013

      Thanks for your comment Steve. To answer your question: The data provided by the Vilalge Green Project will be for educational purposes and not for regulatory use. That caveat will be clearly described by the system when people view the data.

  6. Warmjohn permalink
    January 17, 2013

    This is a much needed project. If a volunteer can help I am available to help.

    • Gayle Hagler permalink
      January 23, 2013

      Thank you for being interested enough to volunteer! At this point, we are not seeking volunteers for this prototype phase.

  7. Ben Davis permalink
    January 18, 2013

    Are you currently operating the network? If so, is there a website we can checkout? Is there any way to see the monitors and pollutants are being measured.

    • Gayle Hagler permalink
      January 23, 2013

      Those are good questions. This is a technology development project, so there is not yet a network of this monitor type. We expect there to be a website activated when the first prototype is put into place in a community environment (planned to be in the Research Triangle Park area of North Carolina). We’ll post the link when it is available – likely in a few months.

  8. Gary Olson permalink
    January 22, 2013

    Hi, Interesting idea. What do you consider as inexpensive? Are you considering the use of handheld size equipment or are you considering something else either purchased or internally developed? How would you handle securing these sites from vandalism, etc.

    • Gayle Hagler permalink
      January 23, 2013

      Hi Gary,
      Great questions.

      Cost is an important practical issue when it comes to air monitoring. Outdoor air monitoring can range widely in cost (hundreds to hundreds of thousands of dollars) based upon your objectives. The Village Green team think of cost as beyond the pricetag of the instrumentation, but also what type of infrastructure or labor is required to maintain long-term sampling. The system we are developing is in the tens of thousands of dollars for full system, with very little cost to maintain. This is still far too high for an individual to ever consider purchasing, but much much lower than some of the traditional ways of doing air monitoring. The air monitoring instruments themselves are the key cost-driver, so the system cost could decrease if lower cost and reliable monitoring technologies emerge in the future.

      In terms of vandalism, we’re designing the system to be as tamper-proof as possible and we are engaging with our community partner to ensure the system is in a safe location.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks

  1. EPA Researchers Build Prototype Air Quality Monitoring System – January Update « Informailator
  2. The EPA's Village Green Project Builds a Solar-powered Air Quality Measurement System | Informed Infrastructure
  3. Welcome to the Village Green Project! | Science...

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