Air Quality Monitoring Kicks off for Summer 2019

This month, our ELPC air monitoring team and community partners hit the pavement in our third summer of data collection. Our monitoring program, Air Quality Chicago, trains residents to collect air pollution data using AirBeam PM2.5 monitors. This enables them to gain a better understanding of their exposure to air pollution and make better-informed decisions to protect their health. 

We have been systematically collecting data in Chicago, focusing on the South & West sides, since 2017 to better understand air quality disparities between neighborhoods. We work with amazing local partners, who have helped us to build this program and better document Chicago’s air conditions.

Air Beam Monitor

Together we’ve been able to collect over 4 million PM2.5 data points across Chicago. We have also built a dashboard, AirQualityChicago.org, that displays them in an easytounderstand format and allows communities to interact with and download the data. We will post a series of blog posts this summer exploring various aspects of our Air Quality research and advocacy, so stay tuned here or follow along on Instagram and facebook @ELPCenter to see us out and about.

Background

Chicago’s neighborhoods struggle with pervasive air pollution and related health issues. Harmful, toxic particulates (PM2.5), associated with diesel pollution, negatively impact human health as they can penetrate the body’s natural defenses and become lodged in the lungs or enter the bloodstream. This can lead to a variety of cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses, such as COPD and asthma. Asthma hospitalizations in Chicago are twice the national rate, but certain Chicago neighborhoods experience much higher asthma levels than others. The rates are most devastating among our city’s children, whose lungs are still developing, and the rates are especially high for African-American children. 

The problem with PM2.5 is that it is virtually invisible – measuring at approximately one twentieth of the width of a human hair. It is also a localized issue as its sources come from trains, trucks, heavy construction equipment, and industry which can disproportionately affect certain areas.  

Chicago is a major transportation hub, and certain communities host high-frequency shipping transportation corridors, but there is a lack of PM2.5 data on the local level. Therefore, ELPC finds it important to gather data from neighborhoods that are subject to high pollution levels, so we can help residents understand how air quality affects their health and help build advocacy around emissions controls.

The Need for Local Data

PM2.5 is a criteria pollutant, which means the EPA monitors for its levels regionally. The issue with this method is that areas experiencing high PM levels are washed out by areas with low levels. The data from this process also isn’t available in real time, and it is difficult for the average resident to access and decipher.  

Localized data allows us to be able to identify what neighborhoods, street corridors, and intersections are more susceptible to high PM levels. We can also assess when high levels happen and draw better conclusions about pollution sources. Monitoring also gives us a unique opportunity to involve residents in the data collection process, giving folks a better understanding of what is in the air around them.

AQ Chicago Summer Monitoring Schedule

This summer, we are focusing on collecting information on commercial/industrial corridors and residential areas in neighborhoods where we have previously seen high PM2.5 levels. Starting June 25 we will be in: 

  • Map showing many locations across Chicago where ELPC is monitoring air quality
    Summer 2019 Monitoring Locations

    Lincoln Park

  • Ukrainian Village 
  • McKinley Park 
  • Washington Park 
  • Midway 
  • Garfield Park 
  • Greater Auburn Gresham 
  • University Village 
  • South Chicago & South East Side 
  • Hyde Park 
  • Austin 

We will also be holding a public community air quality monitoring day on September 7, 2019. Location is TBD. This will allow people across Chicago who have expressed interest in data collection to take part in a full day of field work and advocacy.

Advocacy with Data

ELPC has been analyzing air quality data and respiratory health data and identifying areas with high PM levels and respiratory illness. In these areas ELPC and our community partners will be able to launch efforts to advocate for cleaner practices and equipment at construction sites, inform traffic management patterns, influence transportation operations, and enforce local anti-idling ordinances. Want to get involved with our efforts to clean up Chicago’s air? Email me at twerner@elpc.org, and be sure to check out our air quality data at AirQualityChicago.org and follow us on Instagram and Facebook @ELPCenter.

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