Appalachian Voices receives EPA grant for community air monitoring project

November 21, 2022

Willie Dodson
Appalachian Voices, Central Appalachian Field Coordinator

Norton, Va. — Appalachian Voices has received $118,000 from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to fund the Upper South and Appalachia Citizen Air Monitoring Project. The project will entail deploying roughly 80 fine and coarse particulate matter monitoring devices in communities where fossil fuel infrastructure or other sources of air pollution are present or proposed, and where air quality is believed to be impaired. Eighteen partners will take part in the project, deploying monitors across Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.

Monitors will be located in communities impacted by air pollution from surface coal mines and coal truck traffic, power plants, natural gas compressor stations, landfills chemical facilities, and other heavy industry. The project has an environmental justice focus, prioritizing monitoring in communities where a high percentage of residents are people of color, low-income or other factors used to identify disadvantaged communities.

The project will primarily focus on monitoring particulate matter of two different sizes that are both harmful to human health, (PM 10 and PM 2.5). The EPA is currently reviewing the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for PM 10 and PM 2.5. In a small number of communities, we will also monitor for sulfur dioxide and volatile organic compounds, which can likewise cause and exacerbate respiratory ailments and other adverse health impacts.The data collected will increase local and regional understanding of air quality issues, and will support advocacy for air quality standards, permitting decisions and regulatory enforcement actions that protect human health.

“The blasting dust from mountaintop removal sites is a known health hazard, but the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection refuses to accept citizens’ videos and photos when these clouds billow through neighborhoods. And they refuse to install their own air monitors, so it’s again up to the people,” said Vernon Haltom, director of Coal River Mountain Watch in Naoma, West Virginia.

“Peace of mind is critical when understanding how your air and health are affected by what’s around you. We are delighted that the monitors will help us better understand the impacts from the fracked gas compressor stations near our home,” said Elizabeth and Anderson Jones of the Pittsylvania County NAACP Environmental Justice Committee in Chatham, Virginia.

“Air pollution from natural gas extraction and coal mining both threaten the health of residents that live in southwestern Pennsylvania,” said Nick Hood, senior organizer with the Center for Coalfield Justice in Washington, Pennsylvania. “Harmful volatile organic compounds and other small particulate matter released from natural gas drilling, transportation and processing are known to increase the chance of childhood and adult-onset asthma, nose-bleeds and other sinus and lung issues for residents who live in my community. If data and science are what is needed to convince our legislators to make a change, then we need robust testing now.”

“The air belongs to all of us,” said Lucy Keeble, of Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment, in Monteagle, Tennessee. “Sadly, we have learned that protective actions are never guaranteed, the honor system is broken, and watchdogs are almost always needed. Accurate reporting of real numbers will give us credibility in our push for more stringent and effective regulations, oversight and enforcement with teeth.”

“This summer, coal mining communities like mine in Eastern Kentucky experienced one of the most devastating flooding events Appalachia has ever seen,” said Elaine Tanner of Friends for Environmental Justice in Deane, Kentucky. “Now that the dust is settling down into our hollers and low-lying areas, we fear health complications are to follow. When we have to wear protective masks just to drive through a flood-damaged neighborhood, we must be proactive in responding to people reaching out for help. Air monitors in these very sensitive areas is a good start for my community.”

“State and federal agencies determine local and regional air quality based on a very limited set of data, which is full of blind spots. In West Virginia for instance, regulators do not operate a single particulate matter monitor anywhere in the state’s southern coalfields,” said Willie Dodson, Central Appalachian Field Coordinator for Appalachian Voices. ”Through this project, the people who are directly impacted by air pollution will be collecting important data firsthand to try to fill in those gaps. I’m excited at this opportunity to build power alongside such an impressive coalition of grassroots groups.”

This grant is part of $53 million in funding for 132 community air pollution monitoring projects across the country. Funding is provided through more than $30 million from the Inflation Reduction Act and $20 million from the American Rescue Plan.

Partners and air monitoring locations include:
● Appalachian Mountain Flows – Keystone, W.Va.
● Center for Coalfield Justice – Washington and Greene counties, Pa.
● Clearfork Community Institute – Clairfield, Tenn.
● Coal River Mountain Watch – Raleigh and Boone counties, W.Va.
● Friends of Buckingham – Buckingham County, Va.
● Healing Our Polluted Environment – Bristol, Va.
● Institute, West Dunbar, Pinewood Planning Committee – Institute, W.Va.
● Kentuckians For The Commonwealth – Letcher, Floyd, and Kenton counties, Ky.
● Memphis Community Against Pollution – Memphis, Tenn.
● Mountain Watershed Association (home of the Youghiogheny Riverkeeper) – Westmoreland County, Pa.
● Pittsylvania County NAACP – Pittsylvania County, Va.
● Press Pause Coalition – Buckingham County, Va.
● Sierra Club Virginia Chapter – Norfolk, Va.
● Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards – Wise and Lee counties, Va.
● Statewide Organizing for Community Empowerment – Grundy County, Tenn.
● University of Virginia at Wise Department of Natural Science – Wise, Va.
● Virginia Scientist Community Interface, Virginia Tech Charles E. Via, Jr. Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering – McCoy, Va.
● Virginia Tech Department Religion and Culture – Elliston, Va.


Appalachian Voices is a leading nonprofit advocate for a healthy environment and just economy in the Appalachian region, and a driving force in America’s shift from fossil fuels to a clean energy future.