Monitoring My Communities’ Air Quality

Written by New Voices Fellow Parker

Monitoring My Communities' Air Quality

My name is Parker, and I am the East Oakland Air Quality Fellow for New Voices Are Rising. When my family and I moved from East to West Oakland earlier this year, I became interested in how the air quality surrounding my new home differed from where I lived before. For a long time, I have been aware of how bad the air quality is in East Oakland, but I didn’t know much about what I was breathing in my new neighborhood. So, I decided to find out how the air quality in my two neighborhoods compares. I partnered with East Bay Academy for Young Scientist (EBAYS), who set me up with air quality monitoring equipment, including an AirBeam — a handheld tool that measures air quality data — and a tablet to view and analyze the AirBeam’s data collection. Over the past month, I have been gathering particulate matter (PM) 2.5 and PM 10 data in both these communities and analyzing it. Particulate matter is made of a combination of solid particles and liquid droplets in our atmosphere, and PM 2.5 and PM 10 are names for the different sizes of particulate matter. Both are smaller than a strand of human hair and not visible to the human eye.

There are also many pollutants in East and West Oakland that are large enough to be visible to the human eye, such as dust, soil, soot, and smoke. My communities are subject to significant emissions in the form of soot from diesel trucks that drive through our neighborhoods on a daily basis. There is also a large amount of dust in both East and West Oakland as a result of the constant construction that occurs in and around our rapidly gentrifying community. On top of all of this, wildfires add such extreme pollution to our air that, last fall, it turned the sky orange. And that’s just the pollution we can see!

With all of these pollution sources affecting different communities in Oakland, I was interested to find out the results of my data collection. At first glance, the data I collected might look like just a bunch of numbers. Working with EBAYS to analyze this data, I have realized these numbers have meaning! I started to think about what these numbers say about what is happening around my neighborhoods and how it impacts the air my neighbors and I breathe. I’ve been thinking about how many cars are passing by my home, and how close I am to factories, the airport, and other sources of pollution.

In my analysis, I found a small variation in PM 2.5 and PM 10 between my two communities, with slightly higher quantities in East Oakland. Important to note, the data I collected on the particular days and times I recorded happened to be within a healthy range in both locations. Though the difference between the two locations’ air quality is slight, it could still be significant. It could mean that in East Oakland, there are not as many buffers from pollution, like trees. And as the East Oakland Air Quality Fellow, I have learned that there are fewer resources invested in improving East Oakland’s air quality. And this slight difference could add up over time, creating even more harmful health impacts on our residents.

With all that I have learned throughout this project, I wanted to share information and solutions for cleaner air quality with as many people as possible. One thing I have learned from New Voices Program Director Katherine Funes is that when we are persistent in our duty to improve our environment, people in power start to listen. So if you are reading this and wondering how you can join me in working to help East Oakland breathe cleaner air, you can attend an upcoming Bay Area Air Quality Management District meeting and speak up!

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