Philly residents to measure heat and pollution for NOAA study

On a scorching day this summer, dozens of Philadelphians trained as “community scientists” will drive specially equipped cars through much of the city to collect temperature and air quality data in part of a study overseen by the Federal Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). ).

Philly was one of 16 communities in the United States and abroad announced Tuesday as chosen by NOAA to study the urban heat island effect — when temperatures in areas with little shade and lots of concrete and asphalt can be 15 to 20 degrees warmer than surrounding areas.

Scientists want to better understand the impact of this heat and pollution, especially on communities of color. Extreme heat kills more people than any other weather event, according to federal officials, who say climate change is exacerbating the problem.

The study is part of an effort by the National Integrated Heat Health Information System (NIHHIS), in partnership with CAPA Strategies. The NIHHIS is a NOAA campaign. And CAPA is a private company that receives federal funding to capture and analyze data, as well as create digital tools used to develop local resilience plans.

Communities applied between last fall and Jan. 14 to participate in the 2022 study. NOAA Administrator Richard Spinrad announced the winners at a national NIHHIS conference.

“Our nation faces a climate crisis that has exacerbated inequalities for low-income communities and communities of color,” Spinrad said, adding that the information will be used “to inform strategies to reduce unhealthy and deadly effects. extreme heat”.

Other participating communities: Boulder, Colorado; Clark County, Nevada (which includes Las Vegas); Columbia, South Carolina; Columbus, Ohio; Jacksonville, Florida; Knoxville and Nashville, Tennessee; Milwaukee, Wis.; Montgomery County, Maryland; Omaha, Neb. ; Spokane, Washington; Brooklyn, NY and San Francisco, as well as Freetown, Sierra Leone and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The study has been conducted in other cities since 2017. This year, Philadelphia will have a turning point, and Drexel University’s Academy of Natural Sciences will play a lead role in training and supporting local volunteers.

Philadelphia participants will map heat and air quality in the city on one of the hottest days of the year. Drexel University Academy of Natural Sciences will recruit, screen and train volunteers by May or June. He partners with Philadelphia Parks and Rec, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, Temple University professor Christina Rosan, and Russell Zerbo of the Clean Air Council.

“I’m super excited about this,” said Richard Johnson, director of community science at the Academy. “As a result of the campaign, you’ll really paint a picture of what it’s like to be in Philadelphia on a really hot day. And you’ll capture some of the community’s experiences with heat and air quality…we really don’t have data like that. It will really put a human face on it.

Johnson said volunteers will have 10-12 heat and air quality sensors mounted on their vehicles, or the vehicles they have access to, collectively costing around $12,000 and paid for as part of the study. Volunteers will crisscross the city in turn in the morning, afternoon and evening on a date yet to be determined.

Johnson will set a date after looking at two-week forecasts in July or early August, looking for the hottest sunny day.

The sensors are designed to continuously record the location’s temperature, humidity and air pollution as they move. Air quality sensors will register PM2.5, or fine particles. CAPA will collect the data, analyze it and provide the city with datasets, maps, sensor readings with car trajectories, temperature forecasts and a report of the results to use in policy development.

Johnson said he expects recruits to come from already established community groups and programs. Volunteers will comb through approximately 100 square miles, or more than 70% of Philadelphia’s 140 square miles.

Although other cities participated in the study, Philadelphia will be one of the few to record air quality. Areas such as Hunting Park are known hotspots. And areas such as Mount Airy in the northwest are known to be cooler, as are areas along major parks where there are lots of trees.

“It’ll be a pretty comprehensive picture of the whole city,” Johnson said. “We prioritize the hottest neighborhoods, but we want comparisons. And so we you know, we want the northwest artery in the northeast artery as much as possible.

Zerbo, from the Clean Air Council, said heat and pollutants mix to affect human respiratory systems. So having that kind of data is valuable.

Pollution spewed out by cars mixes with sunlight to trigger a chemical reaction that sends ozone levels skyrocketing.

The Philadelphia Department of Public Health’s Air Management Services has been collecting data since 2018 from 50 air monitoring sites set up across the city to measure air pollution by neighborhood.

Particulate matter, or PM2.5, defined as concentrations of 2.5 microns or less, is of particular concern because the particles are so small – much smaller than the width of a human hair – that they are easily inhaled. The World Health Organization says PM2.5 is responsible for the greatest proportion of health effects from air pollution.

READ MORE: Air pollution in Philadelphia skyrockets in the summer. This neighborhood has the worst.

Locally, the main sources of PM2.5 are emissions from gasoline and diesel vehicles. Particles form when emissions react in the air. Health effects can result from short or long exposure and can range from aggravation of asthma and other respiratory diseases to premature death in people with chronic heart or lung disease. Children and the elderly are the most vulnerable.

PM2.5 concentrations in Philadelphia are highest in the summer. The highest concentrations were found downtown, likely due to cars and trucks stuck in traffic.

However, Zerbo said the study will give a much more comprehensive view of the pollution and heat available to date because it will cover such a large area and penetrate most neighborhoods.

“The really exciting part of this is that it’s participatory,” Zerbo said. “It’s going to be voluntary. So people who might not have thought about these issues before will suddenly be measuring temperature and air quality. This should be very telling for those involved.

Comments are closed.