By Jigyasa Sharma, Glenn Ricart, Lee Davenport, Mari Silbey, Arnold Liyai, and Lizzette Arias.


Welcome to our new blog post series on community-driven efforts to monitor and improve air quality. In this series, you will learn: what our community partners have discovered from installing low-cost air quality sensor networks; strategies for mitigating air quality risks; and funding opportunities for new air quality projects. Thanks for reading!

Insights for Fighting Air Pollution

The recent hazy days resulting from Canadian wildfires helped us all SEE air pollution with our naked eyes. Despite air quality constantly impacting our health and well-being, changes in air quality are not always visible. Typically, communities measure air quality with one or two high-quality monitors operated by government agencies but are limited in communicating important messages to vulnerable populations, residents, and visitors. Because of the expense and accessibility of these instruments, the monitoring networks are sparse in both space and time, failing to capture and communicate known pollution microclimates.

In 2021, US Ignite partnered with four communities – Chattanooga, TN; Cleveland, OH; Kansas City, MO; and Springfield, MA – to assist them in developing their own low-cost air quality monitoring networks. These communities installed sensors provided by TELLUS Networked Sensor Solutions, Inc. This startup grew from a National Science Foundation (NSF)-sponsored cyber-physical systems project and won a US Ignite reverse pitch award. Alongside their sensor deployments, the teams from each community began meeting regularly in 2021 to share observations and ideas. They have since expanded into a larger Air Quality Working Group with the addition of representatives from both local nonprofits and state-based environmental quality organizations. Collectively, they shared some lessons learned for improving air quality monitoring.

Hazy City of Los Angeles

How to Improve Air Quality Monitoring:

  1. Beware the Full Impact of Wildfire Smoke –Wildfire smoke due to climate change can reduce air quality beyond current “dangerous” levels and may require reworking the air pollution descriptive ranges.
    →Consider adjusting air pollution descriptive ranges to better capture the risk level.
  2. Remember that Construction Projects Pollute – Construction is a significant source of air pollution.
    →Include an evaluation of cost versus effect on air quality in all environmental impact studies for new road construction.
  3. Don’t forget indoor air quality – Indoor air quality is a growing issue, and readings vary widely from home to home.
    → Be aware of impacts from indoor pollution sources, infiltration of outside air, and indoor activities. 
  4. Measure Pollen – Pollen levels can trigger allergies, so measuring it is important. However, measuring pollen can be more complicated because of the need to identify the source and its abundance.
    → Learn about measuring different types of pollen.
  5. Measure Climate Change Dust – Measuring dust due to climate change requires dedicated PM10 sensors to augment the traditional PM2.5 sensors. (1)
    → Evaluate PM10 sensors for potential supplementary deployment.
  6. Monitor Ozone Levels – Ozone is just as important as particulate matter in most state air quality programs and, together with PM2.5 (small particulates of about 2.5 microns in size), are the core measures of air quality mitigation.
    → Don’t neglect ozone as a priority in air quality monitoring and risk mitigation strategies.

With the wake-up call provided by wildfires and worsening air quality during the summer of 2023, there is growing interest in the steps communities can take to mitigate health risks. Stay tuned for the next blog post in our series, Six Strategies for Safer Air.

Orange line

(1)  Learn more about particularate matter and the difference between PM2.5 & PM10 here.