New Community Scientist Role added to the PurpleAir Team

Hi PurpleAir Community!
I’m new to the PurpleAir Team and want to introduce myself as the Director of Community Science. I look forward to learning more about how you use PurpleAir sensors for your community projects and research studies. The PurpleAir Community Forum offers a place to share your project details: How did it get started? What was the problem you wanted to solve? How are you using PurpleAir Data to make a change? What were your struggles, if any, along the way?

Sharing your project details in the PurpleAir Community Forum encourages other groups to get motivated! It’s a space to ask questions, brainstorm ideas, and enhance collaboration in air quality monitoring. So go ahead and create a post here in the Community Projects category. We can’t wait to hear about your project!

Cheers,
Kari

7 Likes

Hi Kari,

Welcome and congratulations on your new role as Director of Community Science. I am a high school science teacher with a strong interest in AQ. It started with learning about the Bucket Brigade back in the 2000s. I never thought about AQ until Denny Larson’s presentation which made it clear that once you learn something (once you learn the facts) then you cannot unlearn it, you can deny facts but you cannot unlearn facts. I never thought about how much air we breathe versus water we drink and then it was clear you cannot avoid air. We are all vulnerable and that put things in perspective. This was in upstate NY. I taught in a high school across the Genesee River from Eastman Kodak.

However, low cost sensors have changed everything! I first started using PA sensors in Houston, TX in the 2010s. I found PA on the AQ SPEC list of sensors tested by AQMD. For the money, these were (and continue to be) excellent sensors that compare very well with FRM. I reached out to Adrian with a local project idea to compare affluent ambient PM to lower income EJ fence line PM in Houston. I worked with an air scientist to validate the sensor for use on my campus. My students used the PA data to characterize AQ and how different factors change the PM levels.

In 2018, I moved to the metro DC region and brought low cost sensors to high school campuses. We used PA-II and PA-II-SD for fine particulates and Aeroqual ozone sensors. This newer project was part of an NAAEE ee360 Community Fellowship. I proposed to develop a network of sensors to transform student awareness of air pollution to action that protects AQ. The project was called, Our Air, Your Future: Creating Clean Air Advocates. I won grants to purchase sensors for the teachers (about 8 of them over time) in Virginia, DC, and Maryland and trained them. I developed setup and data user pages for teachers as well as lessons to teach AQ and support quarterly data collection. The teachers shared PM and late season ozone in Sept 2020 (summer) followed by November (fall) then as we approached February, things began to slow down and by March we paused due to the shut down.

While the hands on aspects have stalled, I have found other ways to support the study of AQ. I made presentations at regional and national education meetings, written essays to show simple ways for teachers new to AQ to start teaching AQ, facilitated an EPA/AWMA hosted air quality workshop session on networking specifically focusing on the obstacles to teaching AQ and how to overcome them, served (continue to) as chair of the AWMA K12 Education Committee where we’re focusing on distributing and supporting teachers to use AIR Now inspired lessons and EPA AQI Flag programs, partnered with local community org’s interested in AQ threats ranging from sources from gentrification to massive data centers, and now supporting an IAQ pilot study comparing public housing to more affluent private housing (pending funding).

What I have learned is that teachers are well meaning and inspired to deliver real world and meaningful topics to their students. However, tropospheric AQ is not a common topic (unlike stratospheric ozone) in many places (and I’ve taught in 4 states) so teachers are not as familiar and shy away from topics about which they’re less confident. As a result, students are unaware of tropospheric AQ or have incomplete thinking about ozone. This creates disparities in science literacy, and it usually starts with state standards and the associated state tests. If tropospheric AQ is not explicitly identified in state standards then it is unlikely to make it into the testing. Teachers using released tests won’t see tropospheric AQ so it won’t be taught and the cycle repeats so there is a generational deficit in AQ knowledge unless you live in a state with AQ standards. And finally, it takes time to learn about AQ, find teaching resources, and make room in the teaching schedule to teach a newer topic that may not be tested on end of course exams making it harder to justify the time and attention to AQ.

Thanks for letting me share!

Cordially,
Elizabeth Spike
Alternative School Teacher of Science
AIM Program, FCPS, Virginia

3 Likes

Hi Elizabeth,
Very interesting story and thanks for sharing! The Clean Air Advocates project sounds like an essential tool in helping teachers understand the importance of low-level air quality and spreading that awareness to their students.

I appreciate learning about all the work you’ve done in this field. I would be happy to help with your future projects, especially once you’re able to pick up the hands-on studies again!
Good luck and keep us updated!

Thank you,
Kari

Hi Kari,

I work as a firefighter, in the last 5 years we’ve experienced multiple large ‘career’ wild fires in our region which have burned numerous structures and vehicles in addition to the typical vegetation. ‘Career fires’ are considered major incidents you may only see once in your 30 year career, the Oakland Hills fire in 1991 resulted in a mass loss of homes and was considered uncommon and a ‘career fire’. Unfortunately, this type of incident has become the norm.

Any inhaled smoke is bad for your health, but the byproducts of combustion from burning homes and vehicles is especially toxic. When we fight structure fires we wear heavy encapsulated suits and breathe compressed air with sealed masks to protect our lungs. When we fight wildland and Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) fires we wear much lighter and less protective clothing as we’re on the front line for days, sometimes weeks on end. In this type of incident we’re working, eating, sleeping breathing in large amounts of smoke, not just from vegetation, but from literally tons of man made synthetic materials.

Wildland firefighting has notoriously poor Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for respiratory protection, what is typically issued is a shroud - a piece of fire resistant loose cloth around our face. Some of us buy filter masks, but industry wide there is no standard for respiratory protection while in our fire engines or working on the line.

Something needs to change. Since recovering from an occupational injury to my lungs from working these fires in 2020 I’ve been trying to understand the parts and pieces at play to advocate for change. I see an opportunity in gathering PM2.5 data from the front lines. The data from a purple air unit could be used to convince decision makers and innovators to provide us with better PPE while battling WUI fires. With a unit equipped on the exterior of a fire engine (PMII flex) the LED indicator seems like a good way to inform crews of the respiratory risk they’re about to step out into from the cab of their engines. A second unit could also be placed in the cabin of the engine, to gather differential air quality data. The data collected from opposing (inside/outside units) could be used to argue for fire engine cabin filtration, as currently this is not a feature used to protect crews. We spend a lot of time in the cab, patrolling or responding in smoky environments while assigned to ‘campaign’ fires, I would like to advocate for sealed, filtered and pressurized cabs so we’re more protected.

Anyhow, I’m going to start lobbying my department to take the lead on this initiative and plan on using your sensors. Would love to chat more with you about my ideas.

-Joe

2 Likes

Hi Joe,
Thanks for sharing, and I’m very sorry to hear about your lung injury. This is a very interesting idea to improve air quality monitoring along the front lines to increase awareness and improve the safety of our fire fighters. Advanced cabin filtration and improved masks/ PPE are great ideas.

I would recommend the PurpleAir units with SD cards for data logging, as it sounds like you won’t be able to rely on wifi connectivity. How about power? Possibly you already have power inverters within cabs to power other equipment?

Interesting project and keep us updated.
Kari

I’ve used a PA-I-Indoor with a battery pack, outdoors. Pretty clear green, yellow, red and purple indicators of particulate matter levels, if a quick read would be needed. I’d guess, under firefighting conditions, unless significantly upwind, it’d primarily be the latter two colors.

Best,
Robert