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, 17 (1)

Youth Engaged Participatory Air Monitoring: A 'Day in the Life' in Urban Environmental Justice Communities

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Youth Engaged Participatory Air Monitoring: A 'Day in the Life' in Urban Environmental Justice Communities

Jill E Johnston et al. Int J Environ Res Public Health.

Abstract

Air pollution in Southern California does not impact all communities equally; communities of color are disproportionately burdened by poor air quality and more likely to live near industrial facilities and freeways. Government regulatory monitors do not have the spatial resolution to provide air quality information at the neighborhood or personal scale. We describe the A Day in the Life program, an approach to participatory air monitoring that engages youth in collecting data that they can then analyze and use to take action. Academics partnered with Los Angeles-based youth environmental justice organizations to combine personal air monitoring, participatory science, and digital storytelling to build capacity to address local air quality issues. Eighteen youth participants from four different neighborhoods wore portable personal PM2.5 (fine particles <2.5 µm in diameter) monitors for a day in each of their respective communities, documenting and mapping their exposure to PM2.5 during their daily routine. Air monitoring was coupled with photography and videos to document what they experienced over the course of their day. The PM2.5 exposure during the day for participants averaged 10.7 µg/m3, although the range stretched from <1 to 180 µg/m3. One-third of all measurements were taken <300 m from a freeway. Overall, we demonstrate a method to increase local youth-centered understanding of personal exposures, pollution sources, and vulnerability to air quality.

Keywords: air pollution; citizen science; community science; environmental health; environmental justice; low-cost sensors; participatory air monitoring; youth.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

Figures

Figure 1
Figure 1
Neighborhoods of youth participants in the A Day in the Life program in Los Angeles County. Shown with the percentiles for environmental pollution and community vulnerabilities by census tract as measured by the CalEnviroScreen 3.0 tool from the state of California [48]. Percentiles are calculated based on exposure indicators (air quality, diesel particulate matter, drinking water contaminants, pesticide use, and toxic releases from facilities and traffic density), environmental effect indicators (cleanup sites, groundwater threats, hazardous waste generators and facilities, impaired water bodies, and solid waste sites and facilities), sensitive population indicators (asthma, cardiovascular disease, and low birth weight infants), and socioeconomic factor indicators (educational attainment, housing burden, linguistic isolation, poverty, and unemployment).
Figure 2
Figure 2
Map of PM2.5 air monitoring exposure measurements from all CBE youth participants.
Figure 3
Figure 3
Summary box plots of PM2.5 concentrations by hour (ug/m3) of the day for participants. Typically, the participants are in school from about 08:00–15:00. More variability and higher exposures are typically observed in the late afternoon and evening hours.
Figure 4
Figure 4
An example of the combination of images (all taken by the participant) with sensor data. (a) Map of youth air monitoring route recorded with AirBeam on AirCasting app. (b) A park adjacent to an oil refinery complex in Wilmington, CA. (c) The participants dog walking at the park. (d) A view of the industrial complex from the park. The participant describes the following: “I took part in a program with University of Southern California to help track the air quality in my community. After walking around Wilmington and San Pedro with an air monitor, I was surprised with the results. On the map shown, you are able to see one of my routes to school. The yellow and orange indicate the higher levels of fine particulate matter in the air. This was shocking to see. I decided to focus my images on the pollution happening around our parks. These are only two parks that are near my home, where the refineries are visible, and you can see the particulate matter in the air. Many babies, kids, adults, and even animals breathe in this pollution that causes serious damage to one’s health. That is why I am in CBE [Communities for a Better Environment], to make a difference in my community and to stop this from getting any worse.”
Figure 5
Figure 5
Application of the Environmental Health Literacy Triangle [61] to the A Day in the Life program.

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