NY Teens to Gauge Air Pollution

Surrounded as they are by power plants, a waste-transfer station, and a busy expressway, how do the residents of one Brooklyn neighborhood breathe? A group of intrepid teenagers, who will soon be taking to the streets to monitor pollutant levels, intend to find out.

For about six months, volunteers from a New York-based Hispanic community organization, UPROSE, will be using handheld devices to monitor the levels of nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, and other particles circulating in the air in Sunset Park.

Their efforts are part of a wider campaign to map the air quality of several urban U.S. neighborhoods. "In order for us to really change things, we need to know what's there on a daily basis," said Frank Torres, director of youth leadership for UPROSE. "We want to educate the community, put the power in their hands so they can change their surroundings."Air quality isn't just an environmental issue—it's also a social justice one. More than 80 percent of Hispanics and 86 percent of blacks in the United States live in urban settings typically at higher risk for air pollution, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Hispanics are also more than twice as likely as non-Hispanics to live in neighborhoods that don't meet the EPA's standards for airborne particle matter.

"We don't give a unified health message to people," said Jane Delgado, president of the National Alliance for Hispanic Health. "We tell people go out and exercise, but for some kids, breathing the air in their communities will contribute to asthma attacks and other problems. We need to know exactly what is going on near our homes." Some air pollutants commonly found in urban areas can also cause skin and eye irritation, along with asthma, particularly in children.

Similar projects are charting data in Detroit, Watsonville, Calif., and Brownsville, Texas. It costs about $2,500 to equip each of the four cities with the necessary technology, including GPS, a video camera, and pollution detectors. :: AP

See also: :: Air Pollution Guerrilla Marketing in Chicago, :: American Lung Association's 2007 Air Quality Report, and :: How to Green Your Community

Tags: Air Pollution