Chelsea Celebrates Earth Day by Unveiling Real-Time Air Quality Meter Network

There was a time when members of GreenRoots and that organization’s predecessor would ride around Chelsea on bikes with air monitors trying to get readings in various areas of the City.

Concerned for years about air quality, rarely did they get cooperation from federal or state officials to measure the pollutants from the airport, heavy industry, the highway and other toxic uses in the overburdened City.

So, they took it on the road.

Now, with cooperation abounding, they no longer need pedals and push-power to measure the air quality in the City. Now, it’s as easy as touching a button on the computer.

“For years and years and years we monitored air quality in a make-shift fashion,” said Roseann Bongiovanni of GreenRoots, during an in-person event on Earth Day (April 22) to celebrate the siting of a permanent air quality monitor and nine satellite monitors throughout the city. “We did air quality monitoring with equipment while riding bicycles. We are now so happy to collaborate with the Department of Environmental Protection and the EPA on this monitor. This is a really great opportunity. There will also be nine purple air quality monitors throughout the city so we know we can know in real-time what is in the air we breathe every day.”

The air quality monitor is permanently located in Highland Park and uses complex equipment to measure Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and particulate matter – which are often associated with air pollution emissions. That monitor is taken care of by the DEP – specifically Santiago Camero – and data is collected frequently. Meanwhile, with help from the federal delegation and unparalleled cooperation from the EPA and DEP last year, nine smaller monitors have been sited throughout the city and they take air quality readings in real time. That system is able to report its readings to a website so that residents can instantly know the air quality in several parts of Chelsea at any time.

Council President Roy Avellaneda is actually hosting two of the portable monitors on his properties, and said he is grateful of the quick action and the recognition that Chelsea is severely overburdened environmentally.

“We have had a history in communities like Chelsea that are smaller in getting the attention of agencies,” he said. “It is very easy to get overshadowed by neighboring cities like Boston, Cambridge and Somerville when we advocate. To get something like this in our city is a victory. We don’t take it for granted.”

EPA Regional Administrator Deb Szaro said Chelsea is overburdened and this monitor will allow the community to find out the real quality of the air and then to take action on mitigating it.

Both the DEP Commission Martin Suuberg and Deputy Commissioner Stephanie Cooper were also present, spending their Earth Day in Chelsea to promote the air quality monitor as a form of environmental justice.

“Environmental Justice is important to talk about,” said Cooper. “COVID-19 has only underscored the importance of added environmental justice.”

Suuberg said the process with Chelsea has led to a new co-creation model that will be replicated across the state.

“We are planning to replicate this process everywhere,” he said.

Bongiovanni said the air quality monitor and the nine other monitors will be used in conjunction with indoor air quality monitors that were recently won as part of a settlement with AG Maura Healey’s Office. In that case, GreenRoots was awarded $200,000 to purchase air filters for more than 500 homes in Chelsea.

In collaboration with health institutions and pri­vate and public partners, baseline and long-term air monitoring will be conducted to evaluate im­provements, and the proj­ect could be implemented in other areas in the future

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