CBS News Chicago
October 15, 2020
Air pollution is a serious threat to the residents of Chicago, but pollution levels can vary by neighborhood and even block-to-block. To understand airborne particulate matter pollution at the local level, ELPC and community partners are conducting an air quality monitoring program to better understand neighborhood particulate matter concentrations.
The data in these reports was collected in four communities on the city’s South and West Sides from 2017-2019.
ELPC worked with MAPSCorps, which is a Southside-based organization that trains youth to produce high-quality data about community assets. Each year fifteen teens participated in the monitoring program. Those teens were divided into three groups; each group was given an AirBeam monitor to collect data while asset mapping and answering research questions about their communities. Hourly concentrations of PM2.5 remained very low during the times that volunteers monitored air quality in South Chicago. The Figure 2 map highlights areas with more PM concentrations in dark blue, indicating 79th Street, South Chicago Avenue, and 83rd Street around South Lakeshore Drive as areas where the PM2.5 levels were the highest. In front of William K. New Sullivan High School volunteers captured the highest readings readings of up to 34ug/m3. Volunteers found a greater prevalence of commercial vehicles in the late morning and early afternoon, an observation that lines up with the elevated PM levels documented during those times. Volunteers also noted that additional PM spikes occurred near industrial facilities and factories, construction sites (especially when cement or asphalt was being laid), weed whacking, CTA buses, garbage and recycling trucks, and when the wind was blowing from Indiana.
ELPC worked with MAPSCorps and the Hyde Park Neighborhood Club (HPNC), a childcare facility that offers productive and educational activities for Southside youth. Hourly concentrations of PM2.5 remained relatively low throughout the day, but there were still corridors that experienced frequent elevated levels. Those areas include the eastern portion of East Hyde Park Boulevard, 52nd, 53rd, 54th, 55th, & 57th Streets, clusters around the Museum of Science and Industry predominantly along Stony Island, and areas around Harold Washington Park along Cornell Avenue and Hyde Park Boulevard. Volunteers found a greater prevalence of commercial vehicles in the late morning and early afternoon, an observation that lines up with the elevated PM levels documented during those times. Volunteers also noted that additional PM spikes occurred near old CTA buses, busy commercial corridors with lots of restaurants, idling vehicles, construction equipment, and cigarette smoke.
ELPC worked with MAPSCorps and BUILD, Inc., a community organization dedicated to engage at-risk youth through civic activism, social mobility, and the arts. Volunteers found hourly concentrations remained relatively low throughout the day until consistently spiking in the afternoon. Some corridors experienced frequent elevated levels of PM, primarily those in South Austin along Madison, Jackson, Flournoy, and Roosevelt Road. Additional PM spikes also occurred near garbage and recycling trucks, construction sites, CTA buses, and people smoking.
ELPC worked with MAPSCorps and the Greater Auburn Gresham Development Corporation, which promotes programs and initiatives to improve overall community vitality. Monitors recorded pollution peaks between 9 and 10 am (rush hour) at intersections and bus stops – suggesting traffic is a major driver of momentary harmful PM peaks. Other areas with elevated PM levels include: 79th street at the intersections of Ashland, Racine, and Halsted, Halsted between 75th & 79th, Ashland between 83rd and 87th, and various locations along 87th. This means that while volunteers were monitoring in those areas, they were frequently breathing in air that was harmful to their health. Volunteers also noted that additional PM spikes occurred near old cars, trucks, and buses, near fires and grills, and in front of autobody shops.