How Researchers in Pennsylvania Can Study Air Quality in Real Time
You can’t choose the air you breathe the way you choose the water you drink.
If you live in an area with poor air quality, you’re breathing air pollution 24/7—leading to all kinds of adverse health problems. However, you can take active steps to improve the air quality in your community.
And the first step in doing this is by leveraging air quality monitors. With air quality monitors, you can accurately collect air quality data and identify the sources of air pollution. Beyond this, you can develop more effective solutions to mitigate air pollution.
This is exactly what Madison Hernandez, Environmental Sciences Major at Lehigh University, sought to achieve with her ongoing air quality research.
The History of Air Quality in Lehigh Valley
Located in Pennsylvania, Lehigh Valley is no stranger to air quality as it has a deep history of industrialization. In the 20th century, Lehigh was known worldwide as the center for steel and heavy manufacturing.
It was also the home of America's 2nd largest steel company at that time: Bethlehem Steel. And anyone working in the steel industry knows harmful solid and liquid waste are created as a byproduct. By the 1980s, heavy manufacturing slowed down as the industry faced economic decline.
Despite this, Lehigh Valley continues to face alarming air pollution levels. The PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center even ranked Lehigh Valley as the 7th urban area in Pennsylvania with the worst air quality in 2020.
One reason for this is the fact that Lehigh is now the headquarters of US logistics services. During 2020 especially, many new warehouses popped up in Lehigh with the massive growth of demand from the eCommerce industry. Naturally, this has created a new problem as more large trucks transport goods through the area, creating higher levels of vehicle emissions and particulate matter pollution.
Lehigh Valley Air Quality Study
Although Lehigh Valley is a known hotbed for air pollution, there is a lack of air quality studies and air quality monitoring. Lehigh Valley Live reported that there are only 2 official air quality monitors in the area: one in Freemansburg and another in Allentown, Lehigh County.
Because of this, local air quality data can be inaccurate and ineffective.
So, to better understand the state of air quality in Lehigh Valley, Hernandez conducted an air quality study using the PurpleAir air quality monitors.
In the study, Hernandez used Professor Benjamin Felzer’s, Associate Professor of Earth and Environmental Science, home as her control variable. That’s because Professor Felzer’s home is perfectly located in a wooded area with a low population density and positive air quality levels.
Next, Hernandez placed 5 air quality monitors in North Bethlehem. She would also station 5 more in South Bethlehem. Once she’s finished collecting the air quality data, she could cross-check it against weather systems and topographical information.
In doing so, she aims to:
- Identify the leading causes of air pollution in Lehigh Valley
- Empower local residents with real-time air quality data
- Develop a better understanding of how poor air quality affects residential areas with high population density
More importantly, Hernandez hopes her paper serves as the basis for more sustainable air quality solutions for Lehigh Valley.
How Global Researchers are Using PurpleAir Data to Improve Air Quality
Hernandez is not the only researcher leveraging PurpleAir air quality monitors to enhance air quality. Global researchers are now looking at air quality monitoring as a viable first step to address air pollution.
For example, academic researchers in Los Angeles used PurpleAir data to develop a machine learning model to predict air quality trends in LA for a week. Similarly, African researchers placed air quality monitors throughout the continent to get real-time air quality data.
This just goes to show you how important it is to have accurate and reliable air quality monitoring data. Air quality monitors, like PurpleAir Zen, allow government agencies, research centers, and universities to monitor air quality anywhere. And with the latest model, they have even more flexibility since the air quality monitor can be installed indoors and outdoors.
All of this helps us better understand the nature of air pollution and make better decisions and policies against it.
Connect With Purpleair
At PurpleAir, there are tons of organizations and researchers around the world using our data—from Google to the EPA. We’re thrilled to see research like this being used to help local neighborhoods, and we look forward to seeing plenty more in the future.
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