August 18, 2021
Mapping with Microsoft Research: Tracking Air Pollution in Chicago
New partnership builds on ELPC’s Air Quality Chicago program to bring 100 new air monitors to bus stops across the city.
ELPC is expanding our air quality monitoring efforts this year with a new partnership in the fight for healthy air. ELPC is partnering with researchers at Microsoft Research’s Urban Innovation team, Array of Things, City Tech Collaborative, JCDecaux , and the City of Chicago to deploy a network of stationary air quality sensors on 100 bus shelters throughout Chicago. In addition to our mobile monitoring program, the data from this effort, Project Eclipse, will help illustrate citywide air quality and particulate matter patterns over time, making it possible to compare pollution conditions by neighborhood and find opportunities for advocacy.
Building Community Partnerships
To ensure the network can contribute to existing environmental justice and air quality work in the city, ELPC connected the team with Chicago community organizations which have already demonstrated a commitment to air quality advocacy. These organizations identified locations within their neighborhoods for additional monitoring devices and will continue to work with Microsoft and ELPC to discuss the findings and brainstorm advocacy ideas. Each community organization will receive a mini-grant for their contributions to the project. We are partnering with:
- Blacks In Green – Greater Englewood Area
- Broader Urban Involvement & Leadership Development (BUILD) Inc – Austin
- Latinos Progresando – Marshall Square
- Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO) – Little Village
- Neighbors 4 Environmental Justice (N4EJ) – McKinley Park
- Southeast Side Environmental Task Force (SETF) – South East Side
Technology Around Town
Like ELPC’s mobile AirBeam monitors, the new stationary sensors use light scattering technology to document the concentration of particulate matter (PM2.5) pollution in the air, in addition to other gases and indicators. The monitors are weather-resistant and solar-powered, and the public can view real-time data by scanning the QR code at a monitor location or on Microsoft’s Urban Air website. The new sensors can be found in every ward of the city, as shown on the accompanying map. 80 locations were randomly assigned to bus shelters based on traffic and population density. 18 were placed in high-priority areas determined by our partner groups, and a few were placed by U.S. EPA monitoring stations to compare data and improve accuracy.
More Data Will Empower Communities to Advocate for Change
The U.S. EPA’s air monitors remain the leading standard for gathering air quality data, but they are not designed to inform the public of local conditions. There are only four regulatory PM2.5 monitors in Chicago, each of which only records and shares data every few days. The results are then averaged with the other monitor data across the region, so local conditions can get buried. The Project Eclipse data can highlight disparities between neighborhoods and bring attention to local concerns.
While the Project Eclipse program is new, researchers have already identified patterns. Around the Fourth of July, when fireworks lit up the city, air quality monitors showed higher levels of particulate matter throughout the area. While these elevated levels dispersed over time, particulate matters remained high on the south and west sides days after the 4th. This is also where environmental justice communities are located within close proximity to industrial facilities and high-traffic thoroughfares, factors which compound other air challenges to exacerbate health challenges. Real-time data could help communities consider new opportunities for education or advocacy.
ELPC’s mobile monitoring program complements the new stationary monitors, by helping community members understand air quality at the granular level. It’s one thing to know that traffic affects the air in theory, but to see data levels spike when a truck drives right in front of you makes it all the more real.
ELPC will continue to work with our partners and layer in this additional data to identify opportunities for improvement and help residents protect themselves from pollution. Learn more about this project: