How-tos for Community-Based Environmental Monitoring

by Zoë Affron

Philadelphia Energy Sources Refinery on June 21, 2019

Each Beyond the Lab team member joined our group with our own project proposal, but it didn’t take long for us to see why we had been selected as a group and to find opportunities for collaboration. Five interns wanted to contribute to PPEH’s Futures Beyond Refining, working with the refinery fenceline community of Grays Ferry. We interns have found common ground in our enthusiasm for piloting a community-based air quality monitoring network. This has never been done before at PPEH, and we have consulted with experts in the field, including Harvard University research fellow Sheila Tripathy and Johns Hopkins University Associate Professor Peter DeCarlo. By meeting with them, we have been able to gain a clearer vision of the process that establishing such a network entails.  

Over the past weeks, we have taken concrete strides to plan a pilot air quality community monitoring project. We have researched both benefits and drawbacks of low-cost PurpleAir pollution sensors and finally decided to install ten solar-powered monitors across Philadelphia in coordination with our community partners at Residents Action Committee 2. Our working list of locations in Philadelphia ranges from Point Breeze in the south to University City to the west to Mount Airy in the northwest. The sites include areas likely to record high particle pollution from sources like highways or industrial sites, as well as “control” areas that are likely to record far less air pollution. Before we continue outreach to additional community partners who we want to host a pollution sensor, we are taking time to ensure that our team is familiar with the best practices of community monitoring.

Here you will find a collection of resources meant to guide and advise the members of the Beyond the Lab team in our goal of providing the Philadelphia community with the most valuable and accessible data that we are able. It is my hope that this list can also be of use to the greater public interested in our initiative and community based environmental science and research more broadly. These resources, which include newspaper articles, guidebooks, and academic journal essays, assess structures of global community monitoring networks of all sorts. They analyze the value of these projects in terms of both environmental conservation and community involvement, and provide guidance for maximizing this success. This is a working list, so check back for more resources in the coming weeks!

You can check out Zoe’s list here, or in the “Resources” section of Beyond the Lab!

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