What’s In The Air? Pitt County Students Are On The Case

by Maria Sharova

Earlier this year, our Citizen Science Program underwent a network review. While we were thinking about the next phase of our monitoring network, one of our partners at East Carolina University, Dr. Yoo Min Park, was hard at work distributing monitors in Pitt County. Dr. Park is an Assistant Professor of Geographic Information Science & Technology in the Department of Geography, Planning, and Environment. The goal of our partnership is to develop a dense air monitoring network in eastern North Carolina using low-cost air sensors, and to improve community awareness of air quality and its health impacts. 

Low-cost PurpleAir monitors can help us capture local variations in air quality.

Dr. Park worked with Pitt County school administrators, teachers, and staff to install 14 low-cost air monitors in Pitt County—that’s right, 14! These monitors are located at middle and high schools around Greenville, NC, and will be used by science teachers in the upcoming school year during lessons around air quality. 

Once the monitors were installed, we began conversations with Jennifer Stalls, the Pitt County K-12 Science Curriculum Specialist and District STEM Coordinator. We worked with Jennifer to connect us to K-12 STEM teachers and will be working with them in the upcoming school year. 

Students and teachers are using the air monitors to learn about air quality.

Getting 14 monitors installed in Pitt County is the start of an exciting new direction for our Citizen Science program—a cluster of monitors within an area that can tell us about air quality over time. Students in Pitt County can compare their monitors to the PM2.5 monitor placed by the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (NC DEQ), located at the Pitt County Agricultural Center. This monitor is one of only 22 placed by the NC DEQ across the state! These official state-operated monitors provide highly accurate data, but they are too expensive (~$20K – $30K) to install densely. However, PM2.5 levels can be wildly different even on a local scale; 22 of these monitors spread out around the whole of NC just isn’t going to cut it. The low-cost monitors we use (PurpleAir) can be installed in far greater numbers to capture geographic differences in the air quality at a much finer scale to ensure the air we breathe is safe. That’s why we are so excited to work with students to compare and contrast the readings from the monitors.

By comparing the two side-by-side data sources, Pitt County students are helping us understand how to interpret our air sensor readings.

There remain so many areas in North Carolina without a federally regulated monitor. We need volunteer citizen scientists who can join our network and help us fill in these gaps! If you are interested in hosting a monitor and furthering our understanding of air quality in NC, please email [email protected] to learn more.

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