Mobile air sensors mounted to specialized vehicles are now criss-crossing the streets of the Bronx and Manhattan as part of a new $3 million state initiative to monitor air quality, Governor Kathy Hochul recently announced.
The initiative, which uses a mobile monitoring fleet provided by the environmental tech company Aclima in partnership with Google Public Sector, a division of the internet giant that started two weeks ago to support local governments. The program was initially announced last September during the state’s Climate Week.
New York’s air monitoring initiative has also launched in Buffalo and the Capital Region. Another six communities, including Brooklyn, Queens, Mount Vernon/Yonkers and Hempstead will start the air monitoring program by this fall.
Hochul hailed the initiative as a major step toward understanding air quality issues in “areas overburdened by environmental pollution.” And New York scientists who’ve conducted similar projects in the past said the new program can help individual neighborhoods better understand their health risks.
"As New York continues to forge a greener path ahead to make our state cleaner and healthier, we are also correcting decades of environmental injustices that have overburdened disadvantaged communities for far too long," Hochul said in a press release. "As someone who grew up in the shadow of a steel plant that contributed to orange skies and a polluted Lake Erie, I know firsthand the urgency of our fight against air pollution and climate change.”
By sending the Aclima vehicles to roam the target communities, state officials hope to gather hyperlocal data that could lead to understanding hot spots of air pollutants like greenhouse gases or particulate matter, which can aggravate conditions like asthma. The data will be analyzed by the state Department of Environmental Conservation in partnership with each region’s community-based organizations and local officials to “identify and implement solutions to reduce harmful emissions,” the press release said.
The initiative plans to “measure air pollution on a block-by-block level during different times, days and seasons. In total, the monitoring will provide an initial screening of community-level air quality sources for further evaluation.” Previous Aclima studies have mounted sensors inside Google’s Street View cars rolling through California.
Darby Jack, a Columbia University associate professor who studies air pollution and is unaffiliated with the state initiative, said the hyperlocal data could be so precise as to measure how air quality differs along a street’s length from the curbs to the middle of the block — and provide insight into where solutions need to be targeted. Jack launched an air monitoring project a few years ago that involved putting sensors on bicyclists.
“You can just see what's happening at a very granular level. And that's the real value,” Jack said. “I'm not aware of another way to get at that level of granularity, but also with good coverage, other than mobile monitoring.”
The state initiative also plans to award grants to community groups who are involved in monitoring air quality with support for training, the purchase of air monitoring equipment and sensor technology, and for community outreach and education.
“By launching this historic statewide air quality and greenhouse gas monitoring initiative we will develop strategies to address air quality issues in New York's most vulnerable communities, while contributing to the state's nation-leading climate goals," Hochul said.