Addressing the issue of air pollution on a global scale requires identifying solutions and taking action at a local level. The development of tools such as low-cost air quality sensors allows us to monitor our environment at local scales in an affordable and accessible way. Earthwatch has developed programs with students, teachers, and other community members to monitor air quality in cities around the world, including Boston, Southern California, and New Delhi, India, and identify solutions to reduce exposure to unhealthy air for vulnerable populations.
Exposure to air pollution, defined as a mixture of solid particles and gases in the air can affect everyone’s health. Research shows that poor indoor air quality in schools and offices is related to decreased concentration, lower productivity, and it contributes to many health problems including asthma attacks, headaches, fatigue and nausea. Children are particularly susceptible to the negative impacts of air pollution. According to data from UNICEF and the World Health Organization, continuous exposure in childhood can lead to permanent respiratory health issues such as asthma and lung cancer.
Operation Healthy Air
Earthwatch launched Operation Healthy Air (OHA) in Southern California with funding from NASA to engage community members in assessing fluctuations in ozone and air temperature around their homes and test whether local landscaping (e.g. trees, gardens and parks) influences the well-being of their community.
Earthwatch expanded Operation Healthy Air (OHA) in 2019 into a more global program. We partner with local community members and institutions to better understand local air quality and to help take action to reduce exposure and emissions. Our programs include deploying low-cost PurpleAir Sensors to monitor particulate matter and using the Earth Challenge 2020 phone app to take snap shots of air pollution. We have active programs across the US in over 30 cities and focused community-based projects in Boston and Southern California as well as Delhi, India and Colombo, Sri Lanka.
Kids spend about six hours in school breathing the air inside and outside of the school facilities. Many schools and childcare centers in urban areas are near industrial facilities and high traffic roads. In addition, pollution sources such as idling buses, energy generation facilities, and chemicals in cleaning products can contribute to overall air pollution in schools. In order to tackle this problem, it is first necessary to understand and identify the sources of the air pollutants and, where and when they impact vulnerable populations of students. By monitoring air quality, schools can predict, plan, and manage solutions to reduce exposure for those most vulnerable, and to mitigate and improve the air quality in their centers. We are working with educators to help develop curriculum that incorporates real time sensor data about a phenomena of interest to students to increase student interest in science, environmental issues and social equity.
Read Our "Engaging Schools with Air Quality Sensors" Case Study
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