Democratization of Measurement and Modeling Tools for Community Action on Air Quality, and Improved Spatial Resolution of Air Pollutant Concentrations

EPA Grant Number: R836286
Title: Democratization of Measurement and Modeling Tools for Community Action on Air Quality, and Improved Spatial Resolution of Air Pollutant Concentrations
Investigators: Ramachandran, Subramanian , Pandis, Spyros N. , Presto, Albert
Institution: Carnegie Mellon University
EPA Project Officer: Callan, Richard
Project Period: May 1, 2016 through April 30, 2019
Project Amount: $749,945
RFA: Air Pollution Monitoring for Communities (2014) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Environmental Justice , Air Quality and Air Toxics , Air , Particulate Matter


This project is motivated by the priority to improve air quality and human health in Pittsburgh, particularly in Environmental Justice communities, using distributed air quality monitoring with low-cost sensors and air quality modeling to support community efforts to reduce pollution exposure. We combine three community groups, Clean Water Action (CWA), Group Against Smog and Pollution (GASP), and Clean Air Council (CAC) with expertise from CMU’s Center for Atmospheric Particle Studies, CREATE Lab, and Social and Decision Sciences to address all four priority research areas and answer these core research questions: (1) How accurate and reliable are currently available, low-cost sensors for particulate matter (PM), sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, ozone, and VOCs? (2) Can distributed monitors and high-resolution air quality modeling provide actionable information to help communities act to reduce their personal exposure to particulate matter and gaseous criteria pollutants? (3) How do communities and individuals interact with portable sensors and pollution maps? What actions do people take after knowing their pollution risk -- push for legislation, and/or change personal behavior? (4) How many sensor nodes are needed to reproduce pollutant spatial variations that are useful for exposure assessments? 


We will develop and characterize portable bipollutant (PM2.5/gas) monitors and stationary multipollutant (PM2.5, four criteria gases, VOCs) monitors. The reliability of these monitors will be tested under a variety of environmental conditions. Sensor design and data output (raw concentrations versus Air Quality Index) will be informed through user surveys and input from a Community Advisory Board. Pollutant exposure will be measured in Environmental Justice communities and among bicycle commuters. Ambient data with distributed monitors will be incorporated into a new, publicly available Pittsburgh Air Quality Map (PAQMap), designed with community input. Sensor data will also be used to develop and evaluate new statistical (land use regression, LUR) and highly spatially resolved chemical transport models. 

Expected Results:

At the end of this project, we expect to have well-characterized, low-cost pollutant sensors and high-resolution modeling. We will know the effectiveness of these tools in helping communities reduce their pollutant exposure. The results of the project will be used to: (1) Broadly disseminate local air pollutant concentrations and risks with PAQMap; (2) Study interactions between users and risk information in the form of personal monitoring and interaction with a pollution map; (3) Examine the spatial representativeness of the existing air pollution monitoring network in Allegheny County using distributed monitoring with up to 45 sensor nodes and both statistical (LUR) and chemical transport (PMCAMx) modeling in four target areas to provide guidance for future distributed monitoring network designs with low-cost sensors; and (4) Evaluate community-inspired solutions (e.g. diesel particulate filters on buses) to reduce air pollution exposure with high-resolution modeling. 

Supplemental Keywords:

vehicular exhaust, coke ovens, environmental chemistry, social science, engineering, urban pollution