Companies like Purple Air and IQAir, with air pollution sensors that cost under $300, have brought air quality monitoring to the masses. But when Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) scientist Tom Kirchstetter looked at Purple Air’s map last year during wildfire season, he noticed a big hole in Richmond, a city of 110,000 to the north of Berkeley.
“You can see what appears to be hundreds of the sensors in Berkeley and Marin County, for example,” said Kirchstetter, director of Berkeley Lab’s Energy Analysis & Environmental Impacts Division. “In contrast, there were very few sensors in Richmond. Whether there were cost barriers or maybe lack of awareness, I'm not sure, but unfortunately it really showed that even with these low-cost sensors, which make air pollution exposure more personal, there's still inequity in their adoption.”
To address that gap, Berkeley Lab scientists are teaming with Oakland-based nonprofit Physicians, Scientists and Engineers (PSE) for Healthy Energy to install sensors that will give residents data to understand air pollution sources and patterns. The project is supported by a grant from the California Air Resources Board under a program created by AB 617, a law passed in 2017 to establish a community-based framework to improve air quality and reduce exposure to toxic air pollutants in communities most impacted by air pollution.