Upper South and Appalachia Citizen Air Monitoring Project begins data collection

February 22, 2024

Dan Radmacher, dan@appvoices.org

Appalachia — In response to concerns from a diverse array of communities, Appalachian Voices and a broad set of partners launched the Upper South and Appalachia Citizen Air Monitoring Project, or USACAMP, in 2023. With funding from the EPA, Appalachian Voices purchased dozens of PurpleAir PM sensors, and distributed these to individuals and grassroots organizations in Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and Pennsylvania. As of today, USACAMP partners have installed 40 of these air monitors and are actively collecting data in the environmental justice communities where our organizations work.

Fugitive coal mine dust has long been a cause for concern in the coal mining communities of central Appalachia. Soot is a common pollutant emitted from manufacturing industries and power plants. Urban areas, and certain rural communities that are situated along heavily trafficked highways, are exposed to excessive exhaust from cars and trucks. While fugitive dust, industrial soot and automobile exhaust each contain various chemical constituents, these pollutants all contribute to levels of fine particulate matter, or PM 2.5, in the air.

PM 2.5 is an especially hazardous air pollutant. Exposure to high levels of PM 2.5 causes asthma attacks, pulmonary and respiratory conditions, and contributes to premature death, with these impacts hitting Black and Brown communities the hardest.

The EPA establishes target concentrations for fine particulate matter and certain other dangerous airborne pollutants. These are referred to as National Ambient Air Quality Standards, or NAAQS. In partnership with state agencies, the EPA collects air quality data to determine whether or not a given geographical area is meeting these standards. These air monitoring stations are typically situated in densely populated areas, but the EPA and other agencies do not actively monitor for pollutants in many neighborhoods within major metropolitan areas or the vast majority of rural communities.

Through the Upper South and Appalachia Citizen Air Monitoring Project, ordinary citizens from Southwestern Pennsylvania, Southern West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee are monitoring PM 2.5 levels in their respective communities. Appalachian Voices will analyze this data according to EPA-approved methods, and produce quarterly reports for each participant community. These reports will display the quarterly average concentration, an extrapolated annual average concentration and figures for any particularly high single day concentrations of fine particulates measured by each PurpleAir PM sensor distributed for the project.

Project partners will then be able to evaluate potential health hazards due to particulate matter exposure in their communities by checking their local air quality data against the National Ambient Air Quality Standards, which for PM 2.5 was recently revised to a target concentration of 9 micrograms per cubic meter. With data collection underway, the first batch of these reports will be released in March.

In addition to USACAMP’s broad-based PM 2.5 monitoring efforts, a small number of project partners have also begun monitoring for volatile organic compounds in the vicinity of a landfill in Bristol, Virginia, and the Radford Army Arsenal near Blacksburg, Virginia. Data collection in these sites is being performed by partners at Virginia Tech, and will be shared with community members local to these areas.

More information about the Upper South and Appalachia Citizen Air Monitoring Project, including a full list of partner organizations, can be found at https://appvoices.org/coal-impacts/epa-dust-monitoring.