By Daisha Wall
Community Science Manager
Motivated by a desire to strengthen stewardship of their air, a few dozen Sampson County community members met with CleanAIRE NC and EJCAN on January 20th. This wasn’t just a meeting; it was the launch of a new community-driven air monitoring project, a powerful weapon against longstanding environmental injustices.
For far too long, Sampson County has grappled with the burden of air pollution that threatens residents’ health and their basic right to clean air. The county is dotted by CAFO facilities housing 2.1 million hogs in total; each CAFO leaking untreated pig waste into the and spewing out toxins like fine particulate matter, VOCs, and hydrogen sulfide. Despite these risks, regulatory enforcement has been historically absent, leaving Sampson County in a “monitoring gap” devoid of vital air quality data.
This new three-year project, fueled by a U.S. EPA grant and partnerships with CleanAIRE NC, Environmental Justice Action Network (EJCAN), and Research Triangle Institute (RTI), aims to plug that gap. Participating residents will serve as “AirKeepers,” volunteer citizen scientists armed with PurpleAir sensors to track particle pollution. Research partners like RTI will also join the fight, deploying specialized monitors for hydrogen sulfide tracking and collaborating with residents to identify potential pollution hotspots for mobile VOC monitoring.
The introductory meeting was a powerful starting point, serving as a platform to mobilize, empower, and connect individuals who are passionate about creating positive change in their communities. Residents shared their perspectives, their concerns, and their hopes for a future where clean air wasn’t a privilege but a right. One new AirKeeper stood up after the presentation to share his excitement. He expressed hope that this partnership would bring cleaner air and a renewed sense of agency for his community. This was the power of a shared purpose.
Each community member signed up to receive their own air quality sensor, ready to collect, analyze, and share data on the health of their air. And the program doesn’t stop at air monitoring—community connection is also vital to its success. Quarterly meetings will serve as knowledge hubs, sharing resources and educational materials and connecting residents with scientists, health professionals, and their fellow AirKeepers. In addition to the quarterly meetings, participants will receive monthly air quality reports from CleanAIRE NC.
To streamline and visualize community-generated data, we also previewed the AirKeeper Dashboard tool that CleanAIRE NC is developing during the orientation. Once it’s available, this innovative new platform will allow participants to collect, integrate, and publicly share environmental and geographic information. It transforms raw data into accessible insights, empowering residents to share their findings, identify pollution sources, and build compelling cases for stronger air protections.
But data alone isn’t enough. Recognizing the importance of community-led advocacy, the project offers regular advocacy training sessions. These trainings will be tailored to community interests and focus on equipping residents with the skills to interpret data, navigate policy landscapes to present their findings and demand action, and expand community-wide support for change.
The introductory orientation meeting laid the foundation for an inclusive and collaborative journey toward environmental justice in Sampson County. This program envisions active community engagement, accurate air quality information, and empowered residents advocating for their right to cleaner air.
And it’s an invitation to everyone who shares this goal. Join us in building this network, in championing this fundamental right. Together, let’s build a stronger, more vibrant community that benefits us all.