Community Air Monitoring -- Pittsburgh/Allegheny County

Community members in the broader Pittsburgh region (mostly in Allegheny County) have been deploying quite a few PurpleAir and other air monitors throughout the region to keep an eye on major local polluters. (Two noteworthy polluters are US Steel’s Clairton Coke Works and Edgar Thomson Works). We have very strong weather inversions here that trap pollution close to the ground and correspond with major regional stench incidents (probably due H2S and SO2) that degrade our quality of life. The PurpleAir monitors are used in conjunction with a wide range of air monitoring tools, some of which have been built by the CREATE Lab at CMU, including:

I helped to facilitate the deployment of many of the early PurpleAir monitors deployed in this region, but the movement has really taken off since then and continues to grow and explore innovative new monitoring approaches. I can no longer keep track of them all, but my hope is that we can all find each other through this platform. Feel free to share your Pittsburgh-based project, ask questions, or share insights about Pittsburgh monitoring in this conversation!

Always Monitoring,
Mark Dixon

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Great work getting all those sensors up - and very interesting with the smell & camera monitoring.

What would be your best advice to getting people to put up monitors in their countries/cities?

I put up the first sensors in Denmark back in 2017 - and try to mention them every chance I get…but only 6 other people have put up public monitors since then.

I have found that offering monitors for free to willing hosts has been a great way to deploy them. I have managed to find funders with the help of a supportive community. I think there are a lot more people who are interested in being a monitor host than those who want to PAY to be a monitor host. Just be clear with potential hosts and funders about what the monitors can and can’t be expected to do. I.e. they won’t last forever, they aren’t “regulatory grade,” but they will provide valuable and public real-time information that helps us all ask better questions about our local air quality. I have also found that people want to put up monitors when they feel that their air quality is not well regulated. How is the air in Denmark? Do you know of areas that have higher pollution that could be better regulated, or where people find that the air stinks? It might just be that the air is clean enough in that area that people don’t feel compelled to measure it more than regulators are already doing. In Pittsburgh, people commonly feel that the local regulatory agency isn’t doing enough to clean the air (it stinks a lot and people have talked to me about moving here and re-acquiring asthma that they haven’t had since childhood), so there is a lot of demand for more monitors.

Hopefully this helps! Happy to chat more about ideas.

Always Monitoring,

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