The Imperial County Community Air Monitoring Network: A Model for Community-based Environmental Monitoring for Public Health Action
Communities and regulatory agencies are discovering the utility of small, low-cost environmental sensors that are able to provide real-time information on air pollution. These sensors hold great promise for individuals, communities, schools, and other interested parties by providing timely information that can supplement regulatory data used to reduce toxic exposures and influence environmental health policy and programs. Using these new technologies presents challenges in ensuring scientific validity of the data and visualizing and communicating scientific information in a comprehensible manner.
The Imperial County Community Air Monitoring Network (the Network) is a collaborative group of community, academic, nongovernmental, and government partners designed to fill the need for more detailed data on particulate matter in an area that often exceeds air quality standards. The Network employs a community-based environmental monitoring process in which the community and researchers have specific, well-defined roles as part of an equitable partnership that also includes shared decision-making to determine study direction, plan research protocols, and conduct project activities. The Network is currently producing real-time particulate matter data from 40 low-cost sensors throughout Imperial County, one of the largest community-based air networks in the United States.
Establishment of a community-led air network involves engaging community members to be citizen-scientists in the monitoring, siting, and data collection process. Attention to technical issues regarding instrument calibration and validation and electronic transfer and storage of data is also essential. Finally, continued community health improvements will be predicated on facilitating community ownership and sustainability of the network after research funds have been expended.