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Village Green Project: What’s in our Air?

2013 March 22

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 in Greenversations 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.

5 Responses leave one →
  1. mia noetzel permalink
    March 22, 2013

    how can i participate in this community based system?
    also, more importantly, since we do know there is such bad air places, what can we do about it actively rather than simply run from it (ie if we have that choice)?

    • Aaron@epa permalink*
      March 25, 2013

      Hi Mia:

      Thanks for your question, which I ran by Ron Williams. Here is his answer:

      The information to be provided by the Village Green monitoring station will allow anyone with an interest in environmental air quality to participate. You may participate by comparing how pollutant concentrations and meteorological conditions change over time, by learning more about the Village Green Project using the interactive components we are building into the website, and by actually visiting the monitoring station once it is established.

      We are developing it with a desire for people like yourself to visit and see some of the advanced features. We are also developing educational outreach events with our local community partner supporting the Village Green Project. These events will be more clearly defined in the coming months.

  2. Brendan Doyle permalink
    March 25, 2013

    This is really great work Ron, easy to grasp…EPA’s Green Building Workgroup would benefit from learning about any work you’re doing about monitoring and measuring personal exposures to indoor air pollutants. Now that second-hand smoke levels have been reduced…what’s the next big challenge for indoor air? We do after all, spend 90% of our time indoors…Brendan Doyle, EPA/ORD.

    • Aaron@epa permalink*
      March 25, 2013

      Thanks Brendan!

      About your question about indoor air quality, here is What Ron Williams passes along: The indoor air environment is one of interest as humans spend a large majority of each day indoors. The US EPA has recently completed the Detroit Exposure and Aerosol Research Study (www. epa.gov/dears) in which indoor air quality was a component of the overall study design. A primary feature of the study was investigating the impact of indoor sources on total human exposures to a wide variety of air pollutants.

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