Two environmental groups are putting real-time air monitoring data in the hands of citizens and giving those community members the power to make informed decisions about their health each day.
Southwestern Indiana Citizens for the Quality of Life and Valley Watch have formed Ohio Valley Safe Air through grant money from the Central Indiana Community Foundation’s AEP Mitigation Money Fund. The groups have used the money to purchase AirVisual Pro monitors and have been installing them in various locations throughout southern Indiana. These monitors collect data on air quality, including small particulate matter, CO2 levels, temperature and humidity in real-time.
Mary Hess, president of SWICQL, said the group has been working on the project for over a year, but still has more monitors to install. Currently there are 24 set up from Evansville to Hanover, with an additional 26 to install.
Hess said Ohio Valley Safe Air wanted to make people aware of these monitors because of the wildfires in the West and the particulate matter coming to Indiana.
She said the monitors are especially useful for people with existing health problems such as asthma.
“It's kind of easy to just pull up the app and see if you really want to go out that day,” she said.
Air quality index, or AQI, is a scale from 0-500 that represents the health risk posed by the air in the area the sample is taken from. Usually the main pollutant is particulate matter.
One of the most interesting details the monitors measure is microscopic particulate matter (PM2.5). Common sources of particulate matter are emissions from coal-fired power plants, vehicle exhaust, dust from fields or construction sites and smoke from open burning activities.
PM2.5 is so small that particles can be inhaled deep into the lungs. This can lead to health problems for the elderly, the very young and those with heart or lung diseases.
Particles can also damage sensitive forests, ecosystems, lakes and soil.
In the future, OVSA would like to partner with a local university to go through the data to see if any issues might require further study. Such information also might be helpful to local and state governments when making decisions for their communities.
“Having these monitors raises awareness for what is here, and figuring out where it’s coming from is very important,” said Hess.