The Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project conducts community-wide (4-6 households) air monitoring projects. Our projects use Purple Air and AirViz monitors to measure the concentration of fine particulates (PM2.5) and continuous volatile organic compound (VOC) monitors over a period of time to establish a baseline of what air quality looks like prior to the construction of a well pad, compressor station, injection well, petrochemical complex, etc. We also conduct monitoring during operational stages of these different types of infrastructure, for pre and post comparisons. EHP recognizes that every community is in a unique situation when it comes to the risks of shale-gas development in their area and what site-specific, appropriate responses might be. Therefore, we have developed the Community Science Action Guide to provide an in-depth look at how communities can recognize the exposures around them, conduct effective and accurate monitoring, and use the results to guide further community action. The Guide covers monitoring around existing infrastructure. If you are a community interested in baseline monitoring prior to infrastructure construction, please reach out to our Air and Health Monitoring Team directly.
For community science projects, EHP collects two types of data from communities. The first type of data is environmental data, and it is obtained by using monitoring equipment to capture air quality information over a period of time. The environmental data will help EHP understand what types of pollutants the community is being exposed to and at what levels. This information can then be used to identify potential sources of exposure and the risks present from the exposures. The second type of data collected in the community is health data. This information is obtained through a Health and Wellness survey which is then de-identified to protect the privacy of the participants. EHP uses environmental and health data to explore whether there are links between environmental exposures and certain health outcomes.
Purple Air PM2.5
Purple Air for Outdoor Monitoring
The Purple Air monitor is another low-cost particulate matter sensor that is becoming widely used around the world. Similar to the Speck monitor, the Purple Air records particulate matter on a continuous basis throughout the monitoring period. Unlike the Speck monitor, the Purple Air monitor can be linked directly to the Purple Air website, allowing a real-time upload of particulate matter data to an online data base that both residents and EHP can access. The Purple Air monitor is an outdoor, airborne PM monitor. This monitor is available for purchase from purpleair.com and used for outdoor monitoring by EHP. The monitor measures PM1.0, PM2.5, and PM10 using laser counter technology. Indoor monitors are also available on their website: https://www2.purpleair.com/
Continuous VOC Monitoring from AirViz
The Carnegie-Mellon University CREATE Lab has developed the Airviz continuous VOC monitor. Tracking total VOCs, equivalent CO2, temperature, and humidity, this monitor can be connected to WiFi or cellular service for real time monitoring. EHP looks for trends between PM2.5 and VOC readings. Using a continuous VOC monitor helps target specific days and times where elevated levels are occurring so that chemical sampling can be deployed at the most likely time based on trends in the data. The monitor does not reveal the specific chemicals that are being detected in the air, only a total concentration. At this time, the monitor is not available for purchase by the general public.
Communities can also choose to add additional chemical-related monitoring and/or testing to their project for an added cost. Summa canisters test for 75 different chemicals, while hydrogen sulfide and formaldehyde badges are recommended near certain shale-gas infrastructure. All samples follow a chain of custody procedure and are analyzed by ALS Global, an EPA certified lab.
Analysis and Reporting
Each household that participates in air and health monitoring will receive a location-specific report of their air quality. These reports give a very detailed explanation of the air quality at your home based on the period of particulate matter monitoring as well as laboratory samples. EHP has created a variety of tools to aid in the assessment of air quality, such as:
1) The Environmental Health Channel's Visualization Tool
2) Integration of PM2.5 data with local weather data to diagnose potential sources of exposures - View Polar Plots
3) Unique analysis of exposure data using five air quality parameters defined by EHP: Peaks per day, peak duration, time between peaks, accumulated particulate matter, and baseline air quality
Monitoring Program Schedule
If you believe your community may be interested in air and health monitoring, we encourage you to contact our team early. Given the various lengths and size of projects, we can only take on a certain number of projects in a given year. The ideal monitoring period runs between spring and fall, given we want to protect the longevity of our monitors and harsh winter weather can wear them down faster. If your community is purchasing your own monitors, you can discuss winter monitoring with our team. All projects using EHP-owned monitors are subject to monitor availability. Communities that we are not able to immediately work with are put on a waitlist.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do I have to do both air and health monitoring? Since fine particulates and VOCs can have a number of significant health impacts, EHP asks that participants completed a Health and Wellness survey to track symptoms as well as other health effects or air pollution. The survey is confidential and administered by EHP staff only who have gone through proper privacy and confidentially training. The collection of health symptom data during or directly after a monitoring project allows EHP to compare symptom reporting to air quality findings. Individuals who complete the survey prior to the construction of a shale-gas facility are able to track symptom changes after the infrastructure is built and operational. Specific questions about our Health and Wellness survey can be directed to our Public Health Nurse.
What happens if the monitor breaks? If you notice a monitor is not recording data or has appeared to turn off, even when plugged in, contact EHP immediately about receiving a replacement monitor. Monitors that have been intentionally damaged or tampered with may result in the household's termination from a project with EHP.
How can I use my data? EHP air reports provide mitigation strategies to reducing your exposure to environmental pollution as well as highlight trends of exposure that were noticed in the data. You may choose to share your results with others, or keep the information private. EHP will not share your individual report or raw data without your permission. Based on the results of the monitoring, there may be short-term and long-term actions recommended in order to reduce exposures to pollutants and to continue to monitor exposures.
Do you offer real-time analysis/monitoring throughout project? The type of monitor, whether collecting data offline or pushing it to the cloud, influences the ability for real-time monitoring. Monitors that are connected to online platforms, such as the Purple Air and continuous VOC monitor, allow for residents to monitor their air quality throughout the project, while EHP provides retrospective analysis at various points during the project. Given the high volume of Community Science projects, EHP can only provide this retrospective analysis at this time. Residents may reach out to EHP if they notice a spike or long term elevation in their data feed and speak directly with a member of our team.
What is the cost of doing an air and health project with EHP? Cost varies per project given EHP offers different lengths of monitoring periods, different equipment options, and each project will vary in the number of participants. The Community Science Action Guide provides estimated starting costs for projects around existing infrastructure. For more specific budget outlines of both Community Science and baseline monitoring projects, it is best to speak directly with a member of our team.
EHP has posted additional FAQs on our Environmental Health Channel that you can find here. If you have further questions, please contact our team using the information provided below.
Air and Health Monitoring Team
Email: communityscience [at] environmentalhealthproject.org