Public Lab Wiki documentation

Bucket Monitor

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The “bucket” is a low-cost, community-friendly air sampler that helps people measure toxic chemicals such as benzene and hydrogen sulfide in their air. Developed in the late 1990s, it was one of the first (if not the very first) do-it-together environmental monitors. Communities living near oil refineries and petrochemical plants gathered to build their own buckets. They established phone trees to make sure that, when noxious fumes enveloped their neighborhood, someone would take a sample.

Buckets are still relevant for many communities, especially those in close proximity to oil refineries, fracking sites, and other kinds of petrochemical operations. They test for chemicals like benzene, hydrogen sulfide, perchloroethylene, and vinyl chloride, as well as other volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and sulfur compounds that are gases in the ambient air. They can't be used to test particulate matter (PM), heavy metals, soot, dust, or solids.

Think a bucket could be the right tool for you? This page includes links to everything you need (we hope) to learn how to use the bucket to achieve your goals. The resources here were developed in a collaboration that included Public Lab, the Fair Tech Collective, the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance, and groundWork.

Where should I start?

How to build a bucket monitor

Learn about the materials you will need to build a bucket monitor and where you can find them. We will also take you step-by-step through the building process and ways to troubleshoot your bucket. If crafting is not for you, follow this link to buy a pre-made bucket monitor.

How to take a sample with a bucket monitor

Find out how to use your bucket monitor to get the most accurate and relevant data for you. We will take you through how to pick a location, how to manually take a sample, and how to get the sample ready for lab analysis.

I have a sample, what now?

Finding a lab

Once you have your sample, you'll need to send it to a lab for analysis. We'll explain how to find a lab and what to expect from your interaction with them.

How to use your bucket data

Learn how to go from numbers to a persuasive message about the pollution in your community and what to do about it.

Who else is involved?

History of the bucket monitor

Learn more about the invention of the bucket monitor as well as various bucket monitoring networks currently in use.

Bucket successes

Bucket monitoring data has helped communities reduce pollution, get enforcement action, and push for new legislation. Learn more here about others experiences using buckets to make change.


Add an activity  or request an activity guide you don't see listed

Activities should include a materials list, costs and a step-by-step guide to construction with photos. Learn what makes a good activity here.


Title Author Updated Likes Comments
For the Bucket Monitor, how many tedlar bags do you need per-sampling? @mimiss about 1 month ago 4
What diagnostic tools do you use when air sampling? @kgradow1 4 months ago 1
How do you account for wind in an air study? @kgradow1 4 months ago 2
Updated list of EPA TO methods? @kgradow1 4 months ago 1
Do we need instrumentation-grade steel for an air intake valve? @kgradow1 5 months ago 4
Can we add a 2um filter to the bucket monitor to capture particulates? @kgradow1 5 months ago 4
Have you used the bucket air sampler or other grab sample tool? @kgradow1 5 months ago 13
Where do you send air grab samples to for testing? @stevie about 3 years ago 3
How do I choose between different types of air canisters for grab sampling? @stevie about 3 years ago 0
When is it better to do grab sampling versus other types of monitoring? @stevie about 3 years ago 2

Ask a question  or help answer future questions on this topic

Have you used the bucket?

If you have used buckets in your own work and want to be part of this project, please email Community Technology Fellow Katie Gradowski here. We view this as a living document and are eager to collaborate with past and present users.


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