Imperial County, California Installs the First Air Quality Monitor for its Community Monitoring Network

First Community Monitor installed at Brawley High School

Yesterday, I was in Imperial County, CA installing the first of 40 new Community Air Quality Monitors as part of study funded by the NIH NIEHS Research to Action Program.

Paul English of the Public Health Institute is the Principal Investigator for this community-engaged research study. Luis Olmedo of Comite Civico Del Valle is working to organize members of the community to lead and sustain the monitoring.  And, my group at the University of Washington is responsible for the monitors.

My PhD student, Graeme Carvlin and I developed the community monitors for this project, which consist of a modified Dylos DC1700, which measures particulate matter in 4 size bins.  Each monitor uses a networked microcontroller, and has onboard data storage as well as additional sensors for temperature and relative humidity.  The data from the monitoring network will undergo quality checks and will be publicly available through the IVAN website.

Yesterday, we had great support from Brawley High School’s leadership, teachers, staff, and students to install our first monitor.  The members of the school’s shop class helped us fabricate a sturdy stand to mount our monitor.  The networking admin at the school helped us pull a new Internet line just for monitor.  And, we did all this in 106 deg F heat.  It was a tremendous team effort.  Brawley High has great community spirit.  Go Wildcats!

For the launch of the monitoring site today, I prepared the following press statement:

Remarks from Dr. Edmund Seto
Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences
University of Washington

Today marks an important milestone in air quality monitoring in Imperial County.

Since the establishment of the Clean Air Act and the National Ambient Air Quality Standards in the 1970s, we have improved our understanding of just how important clean air is for health.  We have also improved our standards air quality, and how we monitor air pollution to meet these standards.  Like many regions across the US, there are only a handful of air quality monitors in operation in Imperial County.  Yet, these monitors serve a very important role of documenting progress towards meeting increasingly stringent air quality standards, and help guide planning activities to reduce air pollution emissions.

But can we do better monitoring?  In some ways, yes, we can.

Lower-cost air pollution monitoring technology provides new opportunities for groups to collect their own air pollution data.  While these low-cost monitors are not meant for regulatory purposes, they can play an important role in augmenting the existing regulatory monitoring network.  Because of their lower cost we can afford to monitor many more locations that we were not able to do in the past.  And, this can potentially fill gaps in knowledge.

Over the last year, I have been fortunate to be able to work with community representatives to design a low-cost air quality monitoring system that meets the needs of Imperial County. We call it a “Community Monitor” because it is operated by the community, for the community. I am excited that the first of many Community Monitors is being installed today in Brawley.

But, this is just a start.  As more community monitors are installed, and data become increasingly available from this monitoring network, we will need to explore ways to best use this new data.  Will this data be able to help the parents of an asthmatic child know when it is safe to play outside?  Will this data be able to help identify the sources of air pollution in our communities?  Will this data be able to help us understand if air pollution is getting better or worse over time in certain communities?  And, how well will this data compare to those collected from the regulatory monitoring network?

We may not have the answers to all these questions right now.  But certainly, many people — including federal, state, and regional agencies; the scientific research community; and community groups in the US and abroad – are looking at how we answer these questions in Imperial County.  So there is both a great potential for us to learn from Imperial’s Community Monitors, as well as a lot to share about what we have learned with others.

I congratulate everyone who contributed to this project.

Congratulations — Meiling Gao Graduates

Congratulations to Meiling Gao, who’s graduating this weekend with PhD in Environmental Health Sciences at Berkeley.  Meiling’s dissertation examines the complex associations between the built environment, mixtures of different air pollutants, and both physical and mental health outcomes.  Her research was conducted in Xi’an, China, where some of the worst urban air pollution exists in the world.  In addition to time-integrated monitoring of various pollutants throughout the city, developing land use regression models, and conducting epidemiologic modeling, Meiling conducted a study using the low-cost PUWP air pollution instruments to monitor time-varying particulate matter levels during the Winter 2014 Airpocalypse in Xi’an.

NCI’s RADAR Initiative Will Release Final Report

For the last couple years, the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health has been working on an important emerging area of health research — how to improve the collection, storing, management, and sharing of data from wearable sensor devices.  Over these last two years, a team of sensor researchers, technologists, and behavioral scientists have been gathering and sharing notes, and coming up with ideas for the future.  Not only does this initiative have relevance for the FitBits, Shines, Jawbones, iWatches, etc. — all those personal fitness devices you and your friends and family are using today.  But, it has the potential to affect how the next generation of devices interact with one another, via their data and metadata, over the Cloud. This initiative is called the “Repository for Algorithm Development in Ambulatory Research — or simply RADAR. Kudos to NCI for kick-starting this effort.

I wasn’t able to make all the various conferences where the RADAR team met, but it was great to be a member of the group, and to interact with the many bright minds on the team.  NCI should be releasing the final report “any day now”.