When I was asked a few months ago to participate in a short study that required monitoring the air quality on the street where I live, I was eager to please. Not only did I want to please the person who asked me to do it--Gail Merritt, who started Alliance for a Greener South Loop, always so nice, so earnest and so smart about the environment.
I also wanted to find out a few things to please myself.
I wanted to find out what I've been breathing for the last 24 years.
As it turns out, nothing too bad. Not too much bad stuff is in the air at Roosevelt and State.
Unless, of course, my monitor was wrong. Which was the purpose of the study: to find out if the personalized monitors that several of us had temporarily installed to gather data, were able to match the data collected by more powerful devices, such as those used by the Environmental Protection Agency.
It's all explained here.
The prospect that these little things were as good as the big ones opens up the possibility of everyone monitoring all the air all the time. Accurately.
So last Fall, Gail came over, plugged an electrical cord into my front porch outlet, asked me for my wifi password and attached the monitor to my front gate using little plastic ties that held it beautifully atop some wrought iron and beneath some leaves.
I was scared that my wifi would break or be compromised in some way, having the monitor running all the time. But my wifi seemed to work better than ever.
The cool thing is that I was able to look up my monitor (and everyone else's who was participating near me) via an online map and see what was going on with the air outside anytime I wanted.
Most of the day, my air quality was good, just fine. In fact, it was better on my busy corner than at another location that was much more quiet, serene and what one would think would be a less polluted complex nearby. During rush hour, the pollution/particulates/soot upped a bit--but not the least bit dangerously, alarmingly or nerve-wrackingly.
One day, though, a few blocks away at 16th and Clark, I noticed the air was registering positively awful, filled with particulates like there was no tomorrow, polluted to the hilt. It didn't last long, though, and I sure was curious as to what happened there. Or was it just a glitch in the software?
Gail explained that it was probably a diesel-fueled train that had just gone by.
Wow! Totally made sense. She nailed it.
After a couple of weeks, the study was done and Gail came back to get her monitor. But she promised she'd bring it back at some point so the study could continue gathering data from our community to compare to EPA-quality data.
I hated to give it up; I hated to lose the ability to go online and check out the air in my 'hood.
And I also hated to give up a little monitor that people passing by may have wondered about. Like about what it was monitoring.
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