The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is on a mission to make air quality monitoring cheaper, easier and more accessible through the implementation of innovative new monitoring stations.
The Village Green Project is a new initiative from the EPA that seeks to increase the scope of air quality monitoring by seamlessly incorporating monitoring devices into community settings.
Led by Gayle Hagler, an environmental engineer at the EPA Office of Research and Development, an EPA design team has constructed a prototype that combines the ability to monitor ozone and fine particulate matter as well as wind speed, wind direction, temperature and humidity all into the functional design of a park bench.
A trial version of the system has been placed outside of the Durham County South Regional Library in Durham, N.C.
“We were thinking of how you can do air monitoring in a way that you are also including the community as a partner in the project,” Hagler said. “So we’re looking at how we can design a system that would fit well in a community environment because we are concerned about people and their exposure to air pollution.”
The requirements for the Village Green Project were to construct a monitoring station that require little maintenance, wirelessly streams data online and largely operates independently of outside help.
The strict requirements narrowed down the types of research equipment that could be used for the project.
The design team ended up outfitting the system with an Ozone Monitor on a Board, Model OEM-106 from 2B Technologies to measure ozone, a Thermo Scientific personal DataRAM Pdr-1500 to monitor particulate matter, RM Young sensors to measure wind and a Vaisala HMP60 sensor to collect temperature and humidity data. All the monitoring equipment is powered by a solar-power system with an Arduino Mega ADK board acting as the system’s microprocessor.
The air quality data is continuously uploaded to the system’s webpage for research and educational purposes. The webpage is freely available to everyone.
The EPA believes that these low-cost, low-maintenance systems could be especially useful in documenting how air pollution can vary from place to place within a given community.
“The bigger picture goals of this project is this type of system could meet a lot of needs, so it sort of depends on what is your goal,” Hagler said. “So as a researcher, some of the projects that would [qualify to] be candidate locations would be communities that would be close to a source that people are concerned about.”
Besides having the capacity to give researchers a broader view of air quality within communities, the system could be useful in helping to facilitate educational opportunities.
The Village Green Project has already gained traction as a resource for some Durham school systems.
“I think there are a lot of different stems, or topics, that could tie into this project. You could be learning about atmospheric chemistry and physics and also thinking about how you can build one of these systems,” Hagler said. “We’ve built a couple educational kits with Arduino boards so [students can build their] own sensor system and learn about it. So there is engineering and computer science [components] you can tie in as well.”
The EPA is analyzing the Village Green Project to see if there are any improvements that can be made to their prototype. If the program is successful, the development of more integrated monitoring stations could be in the works for use in different areas throughout the country.
Top image: The Village Green Project park bench is equipped with air quality and climate sensors (Credit: Gayle Hagler)