How CleanAIRE NC Successfully Integrated PurpleAir Sensors

Living in an area with an unhealthy level of air quality might be more common than you think. 

Nearly four in ten Americans live in places with unhealthy levels of air pollution, according to the American Lung Association. One group seeking to educate about this misconception is CleanAIRE NC, whose goal is to “protect North Carolina’s air quality and ensure that people have clean air to live healthier, happier lives.” Instrumental in advancing this objective was the integration of PurpleAir sensors, the first of which they deployed in 2017.

As an organization, CleanAIRE NC dates back to 2002 when the group was formed under the name Carolinas Clean Air Coalition. Since then, the group has grown in size and engaged in many community initiatives and environmental projects. A few years ago, in 2021, they rebranded to what they are today: CleanAIRE NC. A group focused on “Action and Innovation to Restore the Environment,” hence, AIRE. CleanAIRE NC’s implementation of PurpleAir sensors is a shining example of what expanded air quality networks can do to assist in the proliferation of air quality data.

The Historic West End Neighborhood

CleanAIRE NC first utilized PurpleAir sensors in the historic West End neighborhood of Charlotte, NC. This location was heavily impacted by poor air quality, as a myriad of pollutant sources could be found nearby. Four highway systems cut through the neighborhood, in addition to multiple local quarries and other industrial facilities. The combination of these pollutant sources resulted in a consistently poor level of air quality and a worse quality of life for the West End’s residents. 

CleanAIRE NC placed sensors in this neighborhood and monitored the air there over the course of a year. During that year, they developed something they call the “Clearing the Air Report.” This report was designed to inform the citizens impacted by poor air quality in West End about the air they were breathing. By doing this on their end, CleanAIRE NC eliminated any barriers to education that might’ve prevented these people from learning about their air quality. In turn, this produced a more engaged public who were and still are actively interested in improving their air and quality of life. 

Using the data from the deployed PurpleAir sensors and by fostering West End's support, CleanAIRE NC was able to successfully “advocate for a federal EPA-regulated monitor installment in the Historic West End of Charlotte.” Fast-forwarding to the present day, the historic West End is now a thriving community with many recent local initiatives, including transforming the neighborhood into a Green District.

Samson County

Speaking of the present day, CleanAIRE NC is currently in the process of setting up a monitoring program in Samson County, NC. This is another area heavily impacted by poor air quality. According to CleanAIRE NC, the county struggles with many pollution and air quality problems due to ubiquitous and unregulated concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). These can be a source of many different types of air pollutants.

CleanAIRE NC plans to monitor Samson County over a three-year period. Currently, around 24 PurpleAir sensors have been installed in the area. Pending the approval of a few grants, a couple of which are EPA-funded, CleanAIRE NC plans to install even more sensors in Samson County. The goal of this project is to produce tangible data that can assist in challenging the permitting process in North Carolina.  

Expanding the Network

Since their initial experimentation with PurpleAir sensors in the West End neighborhood, CleanAIRE NC has deployed over 240 sensors in North Carolina. Based on their experience with air quality and PurpleAir sensors, CleanAIRE NC has developed what they call “cluster networks.” These are areas in which a minimum of ten sensors have been deployed in an effort to capture the air quality trends of that area. These cluster networks have been particularly useful when trying to make an air quality case about a specific region, as CleanAIRE NC did in the West End and is trying to do in Samson County. 

CleanAIRE NC has found that ten is a good minimum number of sensors for an area, as it creates a fairly comprehensive sensor network and allows for a good overview of air quality data. Of course, PurpleAir sensors are hyper-local machines, so the more of them you can get in an area, the better.

Through their experience and impassioned goals, CleanAIRE NC has learned to utilize PurpleAir sensors in conjunction with air quality education, which has turned out to be an excellent strategy. It also doesn’t really matter which one you start with. When someone hosts a PurpleAir sensor, they are inclined to learn about it. As they start to learn more about the sensor, they get introduced to different types of readings and, in turn, learn more about air quality. Conversely, if someone is introduced to the basics of air quality, it is natural to then want to learn about the air that they breathe. This, in turn, leads them to air quality monitoring technology such as PurpleAir.


While CleanAIRE NC’s initiatives have mostly been successes, they certainly have not been without struggle. Issues regarding PurpleAir sensors' capabilities and air quality education have hindered progression in some areas. One of the problems that CleanAIRE NC has faced is what they call the “digital divide,” which is an umbrella term for a number of issues that can occur related to a lack of knowledge or resources in the area of technology.

For example, in Samson County, CleanAIRE NC had trouble finding hosts with an appropriate WiFi connection, if any at all. This was due to a lack of needed resources available in the county. Additionally, it is one thing to get someone to agree to host a sensor; it is another to get a host to fully understand their sensor. Some might want to use the monitors to measure pollutants such as ozone or various VOCs, which PurpleAir sensors are not capable of at present.

To combat these issues and misconceptions, CleanAIRE NC has developed a number of strategies. 

What They’ve Learned

After seven years of utilizing and deploying PurpleAir sensors, CleanAIRE NC has developed a number of useful strategies to streamline the data collection process. Most importantly, CleanAIRE NC believes in air quality education, which it achieves by keeping its community engaged. There are a couple of things they do to encourage this engagement:

  • The aforementioned “Clearing the Air” report is only one of many reports that CleanAIRE NC has put together to assist with public education. When communities receive regular reports related to the air that they themselves breathe, they are more likely to engage with that information. When CleanAIRE NC does the heavy lifting of analyzing and presenting the air quality data in a straightforward way, many barriers are removed for relevant community members who may never have previously engaged in this topic or activity. 

  • CleanAIRE NC has created an “emissions reporting form,” which community members can use to report instances of hyper-local pollution sources. These would be things like backyard barbequing, fire pits, or other sources of pollution that would likely affect a small concentrated area but not a larger overarching region. This form gives community members an action that they can take even if they are not hosts, fostering larger community engagement. 

Over anything else, CleanAIRE NC would say that the most important goal is to “get as many sensors as you can into the hands of people who really need them.”