EPA Offers up to $80,000 to Communities to Develop Air Sensor Data Best Practices

By Ann Dunkin, Chief Information Officer


Application Deadline: October 28, 2016
Announcement of Winners: Around December 1, 2016
Initial award: Up to $40,000 each to two communities to deploy air sensors, share data with the public, and develop data management best practices from sensors
Additional funding: Up to $10,000 each to the winning communities in 2017 based on  their accomplishments and collaboration.

To learn more, visit the Smart City Air Challenge website.

I came to the EPA with a firm belief that data can make a difference in environmental protection. Since I’ve been here I’ve found that communities are leading the way by using data to understand local conditions and operate efficiently. That’s why I’m excited to announce EPA’s Smart City Air Challenge.

This new challenge encourages communities to install hundreds of air quality sensors and manage the resulting data. EPA is offering two communities up to $40,000 each to work with their residents to crowdsource air quality data and share it with the public online. The projects will give individuals a role in collecting the data and understanding how environmental conditions affect their health and their community.

Air quality sensors are becoming less expensive and people are beginning to use them to measure pollution levels in their neighborhoods and homes. They’re developing rapidly, but most sensors aren’t ready for regulatory use. However, by networking these devices, communities can better understand what is happening at the local level. Communities will figure out where to place the sensors and how to maintain the devices. It’s up to each community to decide what pollutants they want to measure.

The prize funds serve as seed money, so communities will need to partner with other parties, such as sensor manufacturers, data management companies and universities. These partners can provide resources and expertise in topics where communities lack experience. In doing so, communities will learn how to use data analytics, which can be applied to other aspects of community life.

What does EPA get out of this? We’ll learn how communities collect, store and manage large amounts of data. We’ll also get a better understanding of the quality of data communities collect using sensors for non-regulatory purposes. We’ll see how communities transfer data from sensors to databases and visualize the results. Finally, the sensors will produce as much as 150 gigabytes of open data a year —data anyone can use.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy often says communities are “incubators for innovation.” We’re hoping the challenge will inspire communities to come up with innovative approaches for managing data so their residents and other communities can benefit. Show us how it’s done.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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EPA Wants Creative Solutions to a Common Problem

By Dustin Renwick

Flushing is the easy part. What happens in our sewer systems after that remains unseen, hidden in the aging network of millions of miles of underground pipes.

Sometimes the pipes overflow due to heavy rain and storms. In fact, the Cincinnati area’s combined sewer systems discharge about 16 billion gallons of raw sewage mixed with storm water in just one year. This gunk pollutes local streams and rivers, as we’ve explained before.

One problem in reducing stormwater overflows is a lack of real-time information. In many areas, sewage overflows require manual monitoring from local utilities. Meanwhile, some wireless sensors do exist, but their cost remains prohibitively high for wide use.

EPA has partnered with Cincinnati Innovates, the Cincinnati Metropolitan Sewer District, and the Northern Kentucky Sewer District 1 to launch a new challenge that calls for creative thinkers and fresh ideas.

The challenge will reward designs that create inexpensive, low-maintenance sensors to help monitor sewer overflows. This new generation of sensors would allow companies to improve their operational efficiency and meet sewer overflow requirements set by the Clean Water Act.

EPA will reward $10,000 for at least one submitted  solution. The challenge closes Sept. 2.

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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