Let’s talk about air quality data! Join us for Open Call on Oct. 26 to kick-off this topic and then every Tuesday until Dec. 14. Click here for call-in details!

Public Lab Wiki documentation

Bucket Monitor

6 | 94 | | #23680

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.

Twenty years later, buckets continue to be a critical tool for fenceline communities impacted by oil and gas development. They test for chemicals like benzene, hydrogen sulfide, perchloroethylene, and vinyl chloride, as well as other volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and sulfur compounds. Above all, they allow communities to take control of their air. Think a bucket could be the right tool for you? Keep reading!

This toolkit was developed in collaboration with South Durban Community Environmental Alliance, groundWork, Citizen Science Community Resources, and Fair Tech Collective. It is is based on resources generously shared by Communities for a Better Environment and Global Community Monitor. We are especially grateful to South Durban Community Environmental Alliance and groundWork for documenting their processes and expertise.

Overview: Why this tool?

Empowering people to act on air pollution

Community air monitoring empowers people to act on air pollution. [I]t enables community members to become active participants in the production of scientific knowledge. It provides them with a tool to scientifically verify existing community knowledge based on their experience of industrial pollution while adding a more specific and systematic dimension to that knowledge. It thus demystifies science. - "Purpose of Community Air Monitoring," groundWork 2003 Air Monitoring Report

Addressing the health impacts of petrochemical production

It is nearly impossible to understand what it is like to fall ill and be deathly sick each day when they start fracking and other production activities on your land, until you get sick. It is hard to comprehend the helplessness that you feel when your water has been tainted, your children are having nosebleeds and you are passing out in your home from the fumes, until it happens. These are not fairy tales or horror stories. They are real. - April Lane, quoted in "Warning Signs" by Coming Clean and Global Community Monitor

Mobilizing Action through Community Science

Buckets are one tool we have trusted, it’s one tool we believe in, one tool we will never abandon. It has empowered us, it has empowered the communities that we work with, it has made our city shake, and our industry shake, because of the credible result coming out of using the bucket. - Bongani Mthembu, South Durban Community Environmental Alliance

Getting Started

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. Click Here to download the manual for building your own Bucket Air Quality Monitor, and click here to purchase a Bucket Kit from the Public Lab Store!

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.

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?

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.



Purpose Category Status Author Time Difficulty Replications
How to Keep a Pollution Log - - @kgradow1 - - 0 replications: Try it »
How to Build a Bucket Air Monitor - - @kgradow1 - - 1 replications: Try it »
How to Take an Air Quality Sample with a Bucket Monitor - - @A_SCH - - 0 replications: Try it »
Comparing air quality databases: a fun activity - - @bhamster - - 0 replications: Try it »
How to host a community meeting - - @kgradow1 - - 0 replications: Try it »
Smells that Kill: How to Identify Odours - - @kgradow1 - - 0 replications: Try it »
Compare environmental test results to health standards - - @kgradow1 - - 0 replications: Try it »
How to Set Up a Bucket Brigade - - @kgradow1 - - 0 replications: Try it »
How to Use Your Bucket Data - - @A_SCH - - 0 replications: Try it »
How to read an Environmental Impact Statement - - @kgradow1 - - 0 replications: Try it »
A First Look at Technical Documents - - @kgradow1 - - 0 replications: Try it »
How to read a Permit Application - - @kgradow1 - - 0 replications: Try it »
How to read Environmental Test Results - - @kgradow1 - - 0 replications: Try it »
Show more

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
Troubleshooting the Bucket Monitor @sarasage about 1 month ago 7
Question about grab samples from the Bucket monitor tool: Which ones do I order? @amocorro 6 months ago 3
Where can I get Hilton Kelly bucktes? @Stevenlee 11 months ago 5
For the Bucket Monitor, how many tedlar bags do you need per-sampling? @mimiss about 1 year ago 5
What diagnostic tools do you use when air sampling? @kgradow1 over 1 year ago 1
How do you account for wind in an air study? @kgradow1 over 1 year ago 2
Updated list of EPA TO methods? @kgradow1 over 1 year ago 1
Do we need instrumentation-grade steel for an air intake valve? @kgradow1 over 1 year ago 4
Can we add a 2um filter to the bucket monitor to capture particulates? @kgradow1 over 1 year ago 4
Have you used the bucket air sampler or other grab sample tool? @kgradow1 over 1 year ago 13
Where do you send air grab samples to for testing? @stevie about 4 years ago 3
Are there groups who are currently, or have recently, used the Bucket for air sampling? @stevie about 4 years ago 0
How do I choose between different types of air canisters for grab sampling? @stevie about 4 years ago 0
When is it better to do grab sampling versus other types of monitoring? @stevie about 4 years ago 2
Where can you purchase a bucket for air grab sampling? @stevie about 4 years ago 5
What methods are available for doing air grab samples for hydrogen sulfide? @stevie about 4 years ago 2
Show more

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.


Are you interested in following along in the project? Subscribe to the tag below to get updates when we post new material.

Subscribe to updates on this project