Public Lab Research note

A Short List of Community Air Guides

by kgradow1 | September 09, 2020 02:49 09 Sep 02:49 | #24547 | #24547


In the course of working on the bucket monitor project I have come across nearly a dozen guides, written by community groups and local organizations who have run, or are running, their own air sampling plans. These guides highlight the breadth of knowledge and expertise that results when communities approach air quality monitoring in response to local priorities. I found these to be incredibly useful! If you are considering putting together an air sampling plan in your own community, these guides are a great place to start.

Image: Wind pinwheels, courtesy of Breathe Easy Susquehanna County

Air Alliance Houston: Community Air Quality Toolkit
Air Alliance Houston is an environmental justice organization based in Houston, Texas.This guide focuses on how to make an effective air complaint (what to report, how to take an odor log, and how to contact your local pollution control agency) and how to follow up once that report is filed. The focus is on navigating local governance and how to engage with your local air quality board: beyond filing a complaint, how to engage in the permitting process, how to challenge a permit and how to submit public comment. AAH also points users to local tools--specifically BREATHE and CAER Online--to help you make your complaint effectively.
PROS: Provides a clear overview for how to work through the chain of command of a local air quality board. Demystifies how these boards work and what you can expect when you file an air quality complaint. This guide is incredibly specific in terms of outlining all the ways you might interface with local government.
CONS:This guide is local to Houston. If you are outside of Houston--and certainly if you’re outside the United States, where there may not be clear-cut requirements around EPCRA and reporting obligations--you will have to reconstruct this for your own area. Unfortunately, every district and every local government is likely to run things a little differently. Does not focus on sampling protocols beyond taking odor logs.
Statistics for Action: Air Quality Guide
This guide was created by TERC, Global Community Monitor, and Pesticide Action Network as part of the Statistics for Action series. The Air Quality Guide offers a clear roadmap for how to begin a campaign, including identifying priorities, understanding terminology, researching emissions, and making a sampling plan. It approaches air quality through an advocacy / educator lens, thinking extensively about how to use data to craft a broader narrative. This is also a good resource for educators looking for classroom guides.
PROS: This guide is the starting point for a series on air quality monitoring, which includes detailed facilitator guides for a range of possible workshops: A First Look at Working with Data, Mapping Data, A First Look at Challenging Claims, Sampling Plans, and Pieces of the Risk Puzzle. These are just a few of the secondary guides available. These guides are clear, easy to work with, and designed to help communities figure out what to do with their data once they take an air sample. These can be found at the main SFA air quality page.
CONS: While the guide includes a range of options for sampling equipment (buckets, formaldehyde badges, driftcatchers, etc) it does not go into detail about how to use any particular tool or how to take a sample.
Toxic City Booklet: South Durban Community Environmental Alliance
South Durban Community Environmental Alliance focuses on environmental justice and sustainable development in Durban, South Africa. SDCEA has used the bucket successfully for twenty years to monitor industrial pollution across South Africa and to push for regulatory change. This guide includes a snapshot of heavy polluters in Durban, with long-term and short-term health impacts for each emitted chemical. It also includes the “Smells that Kill” guide, which includes an overview of smells to look out for and possible health impacts.
PROS: This is a key reference for understanding odor logging, providing users with deep insight about what they are smelling and what the possible health risks might be. It also provides a quick snapshot of possible health risks are for a variety of chemicals, most of which are tested by the bucket monitor.
CONS: This guide is local to South Durban and only identifies facilities local to that area.
Community Formaldehyde Monitoring Protocol and Data Sheet
This is a community-based protocol developed by Breathe Easy Susquehanna Valley with Public Lab's @nshapiro (whose work on formaldehyde is wide-ranging and worth checking out!) It is part of a longer sampling protocol that was designed to monitor formaldehyde near four natural gas compressor stations in Pennsylvania. The full guide includes resources for mapping and choosing sampling sites, including assessing wind and weather patterns, locating access points, and documenting weather patterns to support validation of air samples. It’s incredibly helpful for thinking about “what to do day of,” including when to stay in bed and pick another day if conditions are not right!
PROS: This is a great resource for building out a fully fledged sampling plan. This guide focuses on site considerations: where and when to take your sample, how to place your sample, resources for estimating wind conditions, and weather monitoring. In particular, it focuses on the importance of taking samples both upwind and downwind of the facility and includes helpful forms to document prevailing weather conditions.
CONS: Limited to formaldehyde and ultrafine particles near compressor stations.
Citizens for a Healthy Community: Air Testing Guidebook
In 2014 Citizens for a Healthy Community partnered with The Endocrine Disruption Exchange to run a community-based air quality sampling study of 24 sites (mostly well pads and drilling platforms) in Colorado’s Delta County, which resulted in this guidebook. They created a specific protocol for testing “the breathing zone” using summa canisters and sorbent tubes as backpack samplers. This guide includes specific start-up and operations guidelines for that technique, as well as information on project scope, fundraising, lab testing, and volunteer training. It covers a wide range of factors you will need to consider when setting up your own sampling plan, including weather conditions, GPS monitoring, consistent collection protocols, and volunteer training. Perhaps most useful, it provides a detailed budget breakdown of what their study actually cost.
PROS: This is a great example of a resource you might use in an area with limited to no monitoring, where you want to get a sample of baseline air quality to lay the groundwork for future testing. Looking at the breathing zone reflects growing consensus that current air monitoring techniques are not sufficiently targeted to capture personal health impacts. That’s a very useful insight of this guide. This guide is incredibly comprehensive.
CONS: This is an unconventional study; they are documenting an “off-brand” use of summa canisters to look specifically at the breathing zone. They are also focusing on quality of data vs. advocacy outcomes: the premise is that if the data is good enough it will speak for itself. The discussion is primary on data collection v. advocacy and campaign.

You might also find these resources to be helpful!

Community Action Network: Interpreting Test Results

A Community Guide for Environmental Health

American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works: Health and Safety Air Monitoring Guide

Northwest Area Contingency Plan: Emergency Response Community Air Monitoring

I have also found it to be very helpful to look at industry sampling guides, many of which are quite detailed and include practical guidance that you may also want to integrate into your air sampling plan. Those are of a slightly different scope, and I will post them separately with annotations.

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Wow @kgradow1! This is an awesome overview -- I went ahead and shared this with a few others in the Pacific NW. Look forward to your future posts with annotations too.

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One more to add! "Guidebook for Developing a Community Air Monitoring Network: Steps, Lessons, and Recommendations from the Imperial County Community Air Monitoring Project."

With a focus on particulate matter monitoring, the comprehensive guide spans community engagement, choosing hardware and software, siting monitors, and analyzing data.

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