Village Green Project

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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Interested in air sensors? Tune in to our webinar!

By Dustin Renwick

Soccer goalie with outstretched hand

Goal? Sensors will help make the call.

Sensors are everywhere these days. Some determine whether the ball has crossed the goal line in the World Cup. Others help EPA, state and local agencies, and communities take a more in-depth look at air quality.

Commercial manufacturers continue to develop low-cost air sensors that are portable and can relay data in nearly real-time. EPA researchers have begun to develop sensors and test their potential applications. Join our webinar on July 8 at 1 p.m. ET to learn more.

EPA researcher Ron Williams presented a small set of findings at the 2014 Air Sensors workshop in June, the fourth in a series of workshops designed to explore the opportunities and challenges associated with next-generation air quality monitoring technologies and data. Check out the Twitter feed for a look at the discussions that happened last month.

The sensor team, including Williams, has tested these new technologies in the laboratory and in the field. The group assessed how the sensors performed under a range of environmental conditions and with several different kinds of air pollutants. The team also evaluated the technical side of the sensors, including features such as data transmission and battery life.

EPA's Village Green Project, a solar-topped bench with air sensors

EPA’s Village Green Project

Williams will share much more information on the webinar, including the progress of the Village Green Project air monitor prototype and newly published reports about the use of these low-cost technologies.

“We have a lot to learn about sensors, their use, and how they can be applied for a wide variety of air monitoring applications,” Williams said.

“This presentation will give viewers an opportunity to understand what we at EPA have been doing and where the future lies in better understanding sensors and their potential applications.”

If you have any interest in the how sensors are transforming clean air science, the webinar will be worth watching!

About the author: Dustin Renwick works as part of the innovation team in the EPA Office of Research and Development.

 

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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Bringing EPA Research—and Confidence—to the Classroom

By Dana Buchbinder

As an undercover introvert I never imagined myself returning to the chaos of middle school, but this spring I took a deep breath and plunged in. For ten Wednesdays I co-taught an afterschool air science apprenticeship for sixth and seventh graders in Durham, North Carolina. The curriculum, “Making Sense of Air Quality,” was developed and taught by two EPA researchers who have volunteered for the past three years with a not-for-profit educational organization.

Students demonstrate air pollution sensors

Making Sense of Air Quality: students demonstrate the air quality sensors they built.

I joined the ranks of these EPA “Citizen Teachers” to help close the opportunity gap in education. The public middle school where we taught serves students from low income families, with 84% of students eligible for free or reduced lunch programs. 15 students participated in our apprenticeship to learn career skills and become air science experts at their school.

At first it was challenging to relax in front of a room of squirmy kids, but I was surprised by how quickly I adapted to students’ needs. Lessons don’t always go as planned (okay, almost never), but patient teaching in hectic moments inspires students to become more observant scientists. When I could step back and appreciate the weekly progress, I recognized the class’s accomplishments.

The students built air sensors from kits an EPA researcher created for outreach. None of the middle schoolers knew electrical engineering or computer programming when we began, but they learned the foundations of these skills in just a few weeks. I watched one student who had struggled with air pollution vocabulary build a working air sensor from a diagram. Meanwhile, his classmate formulated a hypothesis about how her sensor would react to dust in the air.

We asked students to think like environmental scientists: Where would they choose to place air sensors in a community? How could they share what they learned about air pollution?

They saw air quality sensors in action during our field trip to the Village Green Project, an EPA community air monitor at a Durham County Library. Exploring the equipment gave the apprentices more hands-on practice with science.

In addition to teaching kids about EPA air research, this spring’s apprenticeship focused on two 21st century skills: technology and communicating science. These are career tools for a host of much-needed occupations, but are also vital to advancing research for protecting human health and the environment.

We challenged students to share their new air quality knowledge creatively. They designed posters for a community Air Fair and crafted rhyming “public service announcements” to explain how EPA’s AirNow School Flag Program helps young people stay healthy.

The highlight of the apprenticeship for me was standing back as the students showcased what they learned in a scientific presentation for parents, teachers, and scientists. Nearly 300 people attended this culminating event for all the spring apprenticeships. With remarkable professionalism our class explained figures on poster displays, operated their air sensors, and quizzed the audience with an air quality game.

The guests were impressed by the students’ knowledge and caught their enthusiasm in learning about air quality. Asked if the sensor measured pollen, one student said, “oh no, that’s much too big, we are measuring very tiny particles.” Such responses exhibited scientific thinking, focus, and vastly improved understanding of air pollution.

As Citizen Teachers, we were proud to see even the shyest kids present with confidence. These students reminded me that introverts can share passionately when strongly motivated by the subject. By the end of the apprenticeship I had gained my own confidence as an educator from this young flock of scientists.

About the Author: Dana Buchbinder is a Student Services Contractor in EPA’s Office of Research and Development. She hopes you will attend the upcoming Air Sensors Workshop, where speakers in Research Triangle Park, NC will present on air quality monitoring with students.

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 Helps Library by Inspiring Young Students

By Jennifer Brannen (Guest Blogger)

 

Library Partners (left to right):  Jennifer Brannen (Teen and Adult Services Librarian),  Kathleen Hayes (Children’s Services Library Associate), and Sandra Lovely (South Regional Library Manager)

Library Partners (left to right): Jennifer Brannen (Teen and Adult Services Librarian), Kathleen Hayes (Children’s Services Library Associate), and Sandra Lovely (South Regional Library Manager)

Durham County South Regional Library and Durham County are collaborating with EPA on the Village Green Project air monitoring station.  A new sort of partnership for all, the Village Green is an air quality project that invites neighbors, students and community members of all sorts to learn and become involved.

Already, the Village Green Project is generating interest in our community and reflecting the missions of both the EPA and the library; the bench integrated into the monitoring station is being used by library patrons curious about air quality or the design of the air-monitoring station itself. It is also proving popular with families looking for a nice shady spot to sit and read to their children.

We librarians have particularly enjoyed the outreach events already associated with the Village Green and are looking forward to the future programming and outreach for the upcoming school year. Our community has demonstrated a strong interest in science and environmental topics, which isn’t a surprise given our proximity to Research Triangle Park, home to some of the nation’s top science and research and development organizations.

As the school year starts, we are looking forward to new opportunities for outreach at local schools that this project will generate, from elementary to high school, including the new Research Triangle High School with its Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) focus. Not only do we have the resources to teach students of all ages how to do research, we can offer them the opportunity to become part of new and exciting research in the making.

Hopefully, the South Regional Library’s collaboration with the EPA and other Village Green community partners is just the beginning of many fruitful and enduring partnerships that will continue to grow our community and nurture our learners.

 

About the author:  Guest blogger Jennifer Brannen is a teen and adult services librarian at Durham County’s South Regional Library and has worked with EPA and Durham County to share the Village Green Project with the local community.

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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The Village Green Project: Reading the Results So Far…

By Dr. Gayle Hagler and Ron Williams

The Village Green Project is up and running! The lower-cost, solar-powered equipment continuously monitors ozone and fine particles, along with meteorological measurements, and sends the data to an EPA website by the minute.

So, what is the data telling us about local environmental conditions at this point? The graphs below show a snapshot of recorded trends for ground level ozone and fine particulate matter.

Hourly ozone data from the Village Green Project.  Note: data are preliminary and intended for research and educational purposes.

Hourly ozone data from the Village Green Project. Note that the data are preliminary
and intended for research and educational purposes.

The up and down line you see above for daily ozone concentrations is a typical summer pattern. That’s because the summer sun fuels atmospheric chemical reactions throughout the day that create ground level ozone, commonly peaking in the hot afternoon. The process decreases overnight, and ozone concentrations fall.

Hourly ozone data from the Village Green Project.  Note that the data are preliminary  and intended for research and educational purposes.

Hourly PM2.5 data from the Village Green Project. Note that the data are preliminary
and intended for research and educational purposes.

A review of the particulate graph shows very low concentrations in early July. Not surprisingly, this coincided with rainy days, as rainfall usually removes particulates from the air. Once the rain ended, particulate levels started rising to levels we commonly see in the summertime.

The Village Green park bench

The Village Green park bench

So far, the air-monitoring bench survived very hot and humid weather and has operated uninterrupted during several dark and overcast days, including during back-to-back thunderstorms. We will continue to monitor the system’s performance over the remainder of the summer.

Back to School

With fall just around the corner, the school year is about to begin again. We are interested in how we can engage teachers and their students in learning about air quality science and the Village Green Project. Our outreach team is in the process of developing fun and interactive games.

Care to join the fun? Please use the comments section below if you have suggestions or questions about environmental education projects involving the Village Green Project.  And please check back regularly for future blogs!

Village Green graphic identifierAbout the Authors: Dr. Gayle Hagler is an environmental engineer who studies air pollutant emissions and measurement technologies. 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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Come Celebrate, Learn, and—Sit on the Village Green Project!

By Katie Lubinsky

Village Green graphic identifierMark your calendars, bring your kids and prepare to learn about some cool, new science! Open to the public, EPA will unveil a prototype air monitoring system on Saturday, June 22, from 10 a.m. to noon. The celebration will take place at the air monitoring system’s first home – Durham County South Regional Library, located at 4505 S. Alston Ave. in Durham, North Carolina.

It’s all part of the Village Green Project, a study to develop a self-powered, low-maintenance monitoring system to measure air quality. The system is built into a park bench made from recycled milk jugs. Testing in a community environment is being made possible through a partnership with Durham County.

EPA scientists and local officials will participate in the ribbon-cutting ceremony, which includes the raising of a flag as part of EPA’s School Flag program to increase awareness of air quality conditions.  Afterwards, booths and activities will be available for adults and children of all ages.

The Village Green park bench

The Village Green park bench

You will be able to connect with the real-time data collected from the system through your smartphone, or other internet devices, either right beside the air sensor or even at home! This nifty project will measure fine particles and ozone minute by minute, which are all known to impact human health.  It will also measure local weather stats such as wind speed and humidity.  The platform provides an opportunity to test new low maintenance air quality sensors.

Being a local resident myself, I am proud to see the Raleigh-Durham area hosting such innovative science projects and events.

With great efforts from EPA, Durham County government and Durham County Library officials, this research project will be a wonderful educational and informative experience. It will help to develop the next generation of air quality monitors for use by this and other communities interested in learning more about their air quality.

I visited the library numerous times during this collaboration and found out its theme is ‘Air,’ so Village Green will fit right in! Now after checking out books at the library, you can sit on the bench, read and check out the local air quality and weather trends with a simple scan of your smartphone!

  • What: Village Green Project Celebration
  • When:  Saturday, June 22, 2013, from 10 a.m. to noon
  • Where: Durham County South Regional Library, 4505 S. Alston Ave., Durham, N.C.

About the Author: Katie Lubinsky is a student contractor working with EPA’s Office of Research and Development on communicating new and engaging science and research topics.

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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The Village Green Project: An Opportunity for STEM Enrichment (without the Lab Coat)

By Kelly Leovic

FinalLogo_KLThankfully, all hands in the classroom eagerly shot up when I said, “Raise your hand if you are a human.”  I began by explaining to the fifth graders that our job at EPA is to protect human heath and the environment. I then asked if they breathe, eat or drink, or play in water.

As the director of EPA’s STEM (which stands for “Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math”) outreach program in Research Triangle Park (RTP), I’m always eager to find ways to engage our scientists, engineers, and other employees in science outreach and education.

We give presentations, share hands-on activities, mentor, and regularly participate in community events. Each year, more than 200 employees (~10 percent of our RTP workforce) participate in at least one outreach event. In 2012, we participated in 171 school events, 100 of them at schools serving low-income populations.

While one of our objectives is to inspire students to gain an interest in science and the environment, one of the challenges is giving them a taste of how much FUN scientists can have doing field work (they don’t just work inside decked out in white lab coats and geeky protective goggles).

One solution: the Village Green Project!

The Village Green Project is a prototype solar-powered air monitor that EPA scientists developed to place in a central location for about one year.

We explored several possible partnerships for the Village Green site and are excited to announce that it will soon be installed at the South Regional Branch of the Durham County Library, whose design theme is conveniently “Air!” This location fits our key criteria, and we are excited to join forces with the library’s existing outreach program to share STEM enrichment opportunities.

Additionally, the library is located across from Lowes Grove Middle School, which will become a STEM magnet school in the fall of 2013. EPA has participated in STEM outreach at Lowes Grove for several years, and we are excited about the opportunity the Village Green Project will offer our scientists who teach after-school Citizen School Apprenticeships.

Instead of talks and showing pictures about what scientists do, we will be able to leave the lab coats and goggles behind and walk outdoors to experience REAL FIELD WORK. It may just be fun enough to inspire some future scientists!

About the author: Kelly Leovic is the director of EPA-RTP’s STEM Outreach Program and has worked for the EPA as an environmental engineer since 1987. She enjoys spending time with her three teenagers (really!) and plans to bring them on a field trip to see the Village Green Project.

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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The Palm-Sized Wonder that Brings Life to Village Green

By Vasu Kilaru and Gayle Hagler, Ph.D.

The petite 'electronics sandwich' at the heart of the Village Green system - an Arduino board on the bottom with layers of other accessory electronic boards stacked on top.

Welcome back to the Village Green Project, an ongoing EPA research, development and demonstration project to build a solar-powered station to measure air pollutants.

This innovative new measurement system must: collect and send data; use minimal power; monitor instrument performance; and have remote on-and-off capabilities for several components to match changing conditions (off for dark and cloudy days, and then on again when the sun starts to shine).

The team searched far and wide for an on-board computer that would serve as the “brains” of the Village Green System. The computer needed to run on very little power, be flexible enough to handle all of our requirements, and ideally work using a free, publically available (“open source”) computer program.

We discovered Arduino—a microcontroller that is essentially a simple computer with an accompanying free programming tool. A wide group of people, including artists, designers and hobbyists, are already using it to build electronics like homemade clocks or robots. It works perfectly for our needs because it uses very low power and can fit in your hand.

A number of accessory electronic items allow the small circuit board to meet the requirements of the system. For example, one accessory adds a timestamp to the data being collected so anyone viewing it can see the amount of air pollutants measured at a particular time and day. Another accessory links the Arduino board with a cellular modem (similar to the “data” port of a cellphone), which then sends recorded air pollution data to our on-line database. These accessories are electronic boards that stack on top of the main Arduino board, making what looks like an electronics sandwich.

With a free programming tool available to the Arduino-user community, we are developing a custom computer program for the Village Green System—nearly 800 lines of code and counting.

So far, so good! Recently, North Carolina experienced several days of cloudy, overcast weather. The trusty Arduino board successfully handled the decrease in power—turning off several instruments during that time and then efficiently restarting them once the sun came back out.

About the Authors: Gayle Hagler is an environmental engineer who studies air pollutant emissions and measurement technologies. 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.

Note: Mention of trade names or commercial products do not constitute endorsement, certification or recommendation for use.

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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