Showing posts with label air quality. Show all posts
Showing posts with label air quality. Show all posts

Friday, October 18, 2013

Measure air pollution in your home or backyard with a DustDuino

This week, the World Health Organization (WHO) took a major step by announcing that air pollution is carcinogenic to humans.

WHO also announced they are considering particulate matter, a major component of indoor and outdoor air pollution, as carcinogenic to humans as well.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a special unit inside WHO tasked with promoting international collaborations on cancer research, reached that conclusion after reviewing more than 1000 scientific papers on the carcinogenicity of air pollutants.

Air pollution and particulate matter will be included in IARC's Monograph, which is an encyclopedia of known carcinogens. Particulate matter will be classified as a Group 1 carcinogen, along with tobacco smoke and asbestos.

In an IARC press release [1], the Deputy Head of the Monographs Programme, Dr. Dana Loomis, said that the group's goal was to "evaluate the air everyone breathes rather than focus on specific air pollutants."

"The results from the reviewed studies point in the same direction: the risk of developing lung cancer is significantly increased in people exposed to air pollution," he said.

This finding elevates the urgency to clean up the air, both outdoors and indoors. But how does one find out the condition of the air in the first place? How healthy is your air?

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Understanding air pollution with a simple dust sensor

Outdoor air pollution, in the most extreme cases, can be immediately identified even without any special training. It casts a haze over cities, collects on streets and buildings, and provides dramatic fodder for the news. Even when the air pollution isn't actually visible, we can smell when something isn't quite right.

I previously wrote about how difficult it can be to obtain basic environmental data, and how government budget cuts are threatening air monitoring networks in several states. It now appears that other countries are making hard decisions about which monitors to keep, and which monitors to shut down. The Guardian reported recently that up to 600 air quality monitors, including monitors for nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter (PM), could be shut down across the United Kingdom.

Yet for all the attention the media pays to outdoor pollution, people spend only about 1 to 2 hours outdoors (and that's only in the pleasant summer months) according to one University of Newcastle study. According to the EPA, we spend about 90 percent of our time indoors. We spend the vast majority of our time indoors, so it makes sense monitor pollution in the home.

Indoor Air Pollution (IAP) is an especially big problem in developing countries, where 60 to 90 percent of households still rely on coal and wood for heat and food preparation. About 36 percent of acute lower respiratory infections and about 22 percent of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in the developing world are caused by IAP (pdf). In one study of women in China, researchers found that a 10 μg/m3 (microgram per cubic meter) increase in PM1 (ultrafine particles smaller than one micrometer) was associated with 45 percent increased risk of lung cancer.

IAP isn't just a concern in developing and BRIC nations, though. Similar problems exist for the rural poor in the US and Canada, where indoor pollution exceeds the World Health Organization air quality guidelines in up to 80% of homes. As in BRIC nations, these homes rely greatly on burning organic fuels.

Air quality at home can be an issue even for homes that don't burn wood or coal. Indoor air pollution can come from "molds, bacteria, viruses, pollen, animal dander and particles from dust mites and cockroaches," according to the American Lung Association.

Indoor air pollution ranks among the top five environmental risks to public health, the EPA says. Indoor pollution levels may be two to five, and sometimes 100, times higher than outdoor pollution.

All that makes the indoors a great place to put a dust sensor.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Hot spots linger during Hoopeston tire fire cleanup, FOIA filed

Firefighters attempt to extinguish the tire fire at J&R Used Tire Service in Hoopeston, Ill., on June 19. Photo by Dan Johnson.
State environmental officials are continuing to monitor the site where a massive tire fire broke out 43 days ago, citing new concerns about dust during the cleanup process.

According to the Champaign News-Gazette, officials from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) say the site has dried out since firefighters poured hundreds of thousands of gallons of water on the tire fire at J&R Used Tire Service in Hoopeston, Ill. on June 19. This is creating an issue for "tire dust," which can not be kept down with more water.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Michigan also faces cutbacks in air quality monitoring, risks violating federal requirments

Illinois isn't the only state facing cutbacks in environmental monitoring due to state and federal budgets. In its annual plan to monitor air quality, Michigan also revealed it is having difficulties keeping its network of air monitors intact.

Unlike Illinois, however, Michigan's cutbacks threaten the state's ability to meet federal laws for air monitoring.

"The MDEQ (Michigan Department of Environmental Quality) cannot implement all of the new monitoring requirements described above without new funding and a concomitant reduction in other monitoring requirements due to financial and staffing limitations," the state's environmental agency wrote in its 2014 ambient air monitoring network review (PDF).

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Witness to Hoopeston tire fire calls experience "bizarre" (photos)

Last week, I wrote about a massive tire fire that burned in the small town of Hoopeston, Ill. In my post, I argued that citizen-based sensor journalism could have helped the community understand the local environmental impact of this man-made disaster.

I've sent an email to the IEPA requesting that the agency release the data they collected after the fire. In the meantime, we can assume from scientific studies that the tire fire released pollutants, toxins, cancer-causing chemicals, and even mutagens which can affect genetics thorough generations.

After publishing my post, I received a tweet from a follower who was at the scene. Dan Johnson, a fellow Urbana, Ill. resident, just received a new camera and thought the Hoopeston tire fire would be an opportunity to try it out. He was shocked by what he saw.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Illinois EPA looking to cut back on air monitoring

Facing the prospect of budget cuts, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency has drafted plans to reduce the number of air quality sensors throughout the state.

The 2014 Ambient Air Monitoring Plan, drafted in May by the IEPA, recommends that the agency discontinue one sulfur monitoring site, one particulate matter monitor, and three lead monitoring sites.

"The proposed 2014 network plan provides select discontinuations from the plan approved by US EPA and operated in 2013," the plan reads (PDF). "The design of the monitoring network for 2014 has also been based upon the assumption that funding to support the monitoring program is likely to be reduced in fiscal year 2014 and that all efforts would be made to keep as much of the network intact as possible."

The particulate matter monitor is located atop Washington High School in the South Side of Chicago, one of the more polluted parts of the city. It specifically measures the amount of particles under 10 micrometers in diameter, known as PM 10, which can damage lung tissue, cause cancer, and lead to death.

According to the IEPA's 2011 annual air report (2012 and 2013 reports are not available from the website), this was the same monitoring station that observed the highest annual average concentration of airborne cadmium and sulfur in the state for that year.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Visualization - Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood struggles with pollution

The Pilsen neighborhood in Chicago faces unique challenges in terms of environment and health. It retains some of its manufacturing base from when it was an industrial center for Chicago, yet it is primarily residential and now houses a large Latino population. The combination of a dense population and high emissions mean that pollution for the neighborhood is a major concern, as the above visualization demonstrates.

This visualization is part of the series "The Battle in the Barrio: The Struggle in Chicago's Pilsen Neighborhood Against Pollution." Part one, "Four sisters, one rare disorder," is here. And part two, "Old problems, new attention," is here.