air quality


Industrial Air Pollution (image: Shutterstock)

Air Pollution. Climate change. Environmental hazards. These words float around the internet, news feeds, and fill the air waves from time-to-time, but most often tends to be forgotten or takes a backseat in issues when the day is done. This is especially the case in environmental justice neighborhoods. Is it because it’s an issue that has been talked to death? Or is it all politics? Either way air issues and hazards cannot be continue to be ignored.

Just recently the World Health Organization’s cancer research division, the International Agency for Research on Cancer announced that air pollution–emissions from industrial facilities, vehicle exhaust, and wood-biomass  burning are associated or linked to some cancers. This announcement by the WHO is landmark in that it is the first time that outdoor air pollution has been deemed a carcinogen (Click here to read the full report. **note: must first download epub reader). This report is a strong nudge for environmental health organizations such as Clean Air Council and communities that are impacted by environmental hazards to take action and translate that into effective policies, strategies, and stronger environmental oversight.

Clean Air Council has expanded its Environmental Justice Program in Philadelphia from  Port Richmond into much of Philadelphia’s Delaware RiverWards communities including Bridesburg and Kensignton. The program is now moving towards organizing and education in the RiverWards communities about the environmental hazards and air quality issues in area, and to build effective policy recommendations to take to their community leaders and elected officials. We will begin environmental hazards workshops and policy workshops starting in November 2013.


particulate measurement map

Above is a map of the particulate matter concentrations taken during the River Wards Environment Tour in May. (Below is a brief description for each site on the map). Pete DeCarlo and atmospheric chemist from Drexel University brought along his monitor and collected observations on four different sizes of particulate matter. This is the resulting map for our PM 2.5 observations, and though it was made using only brief measurements it can tell us a few things about air quality in the River Wards:

First, nowhere in this map meets the qualifications for “good” air quality according to the Air Quality Index. This isn’t surprising for a city, no less an industrial area inside of a city, but that is our point.  Measurements were taken on a normal day with the usual amount of construction, bustle, etc.

Second, the map confirms many of the environmental concerns already voiced by neighborhood residents. Scrapyards to the west and pockets of asphalt recycling across both neighborhoods make an appearance on the map, each surrounded by larger circles hitting the red and even purple marks on the AQI scale.

The tour was a great success and we look forward to sharing more of the River Wards’ environmental landscape in the future. We will also be working with some of our local regulatory agencies to ensure that these dirty spots on the map are appropriately cleaned up. Thanks for everyone’s hard work, particularly our community researchers who put the time in to help research the sites for the tour.


APPENDIX i: TOUR SWAG (right click, save link as)

Route Map with Descriptions

Media Release

Particulate Matter Information

Land-use in Port Richmond and Bridesburg

photo (14)

Our air speaks to the internet. Air Quality Egg base stations glow different colors as they feed NO2 and CO data into the Clean Air Council router.

Our Air Quality eggs have arrived! Wait, what’s that?

Earlier in 2012, Clean Air Council donated to #airqualityegg’s kickstarter campaign, a small group of DIY designers, engineers, computer nerds, etc. that decided to make an open-sourced do-it-yourself air quality monitor. Working on an air monitoring campaign in Philadelphia, we understand the need for inexpensive and openly available methods for everyday folks to understand the quality of the air around them.

We put two eggs up in our office: poached is currently perched on the ledge outside our third floor office window in the Rittenhouse neighborhood of Philadelphia; over-easy is inside the office, humming away next to my co-worker’s desk. Those links in our cute egg names will connect you to the live feed of air quality data for each of our eggs. If you’d like some historical data from our monitors click on poached or over-easy and it will take you to the historical and live feeds for each. Read More

Air quality in Philly neighborhoods is mostly determined by proximity (how close are you to some of our city’s largest polluters). It is reasonable to believe that distance from where you are to the Sunoco refinery or I-95 has a significant impact on the quality of air you breathe. But, as I mentioned before, the current air quality monitoring network doesn’t give us a clear picture of this. This isn’t true for the whole of the city, as air pollution from places outside of Philadelphia can travel into the city by way of large-scale air currents. The heavy pollution from Beijing hanging in the Los Angeles basin is a good example of this type of air quality travel. At the neighborhood level, though, what you are close to means a lot for what you breathe.

Above is a land-use map of Philadelphia I made depicting the variety of different uses in the city. For those of us that spend quite a bit of time looking at maps and thinking about space in Philadelphia, it isn’t much of a surprise: a long stretch on industrial use on the western edge of the Delaware river that snakes down around the expanding southport; dense commercial and transportation use in our very own central business district, center city; a sea of yellow and orange residential and vacant land in our urban neighborhoods; and large tracts of contiguous industrial and transportation in the southwest marking the space of food terminals, the refinery, and our somewhat international airport. The pie chart of land use by square mile included here shows that just over half of land in the city is taken up by residences and transportation alone. Read More