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Sacramento, Calif., to Add Air Quality Tech in Poorer Areas

As part of a $500,000 pilot program, Sacramento, Calif., will install 100 air quality monitors in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color. Such areas tend to have worse air quality than their counterparts.

Air quality monitors that detect air pollution
Shutterstock/Pixel B
(TNS) — The city of Sacramento will deploy 100 air quality monitors to expand community air quality monitoring, particularly in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color disproportionately impacted by air pollution.

In partnership with the Sacramento Metro Air District, the $500,000 pilot program approved by City Council last Tuesday will prioritize placing sensors in neighborhoods that have historically lacked real-time, localized air quality information such as Franklin, Fruitridge, Northgate and Gardenland.

"We have very high-performing regulatory monitors," said Jennifer Venema, who leads the City of Sacramento Office of Climate Action and Sustainability, "but what we haven't had is block-by-block neighborhood coverage."

Researchers have consistently found that poor neighborhoods and communities of color across California and the United States have worse air quality, in part because they are surrounded by freeways and industrial buildings and lack green spaces and trees.

"We consistently have neighborhoods with poorer health, poorer air, higher healthcare costs," said Councilman Eric Guerra, who also serves as chair of the Sacramento Metro Air District. "Those kinds of issues have a trickle-down effect on the economics and health of our community."

But it's been a trend that, until now, has been harder to track in Sacramento. With the 100 additional monitors, Sacramento will see an unprecedented level of air quality monitoring, Venema said — an important achievement that will be vital in the years to come, as climate change fuels more intense wildfires and more frequent hot summer days.

The block-by-block data could be used by school districts to determine when it's safer to close school for in-person instruction, Guerra said, or better to keep schools open if students would otherwise experience poorer air quality in their homes.

But Guerra envisions the data will be an important tool to leverage for future climate change initiatives or policy decisions. By understanding trends in air pollution and who's most effected, that could encourage more investment in, for example, electric public transit. Twin Rivers Unified School District, Guerra pointed out, now has a fleet of 40 zero-emission school buses, and more school districts are doing the same.

"We've known the North Sac air is so bad with the Capital City Freeway corridors," he said. "Getting diesel buses out of the way reduces it for our kids and for our communities they drive through."

Officials with the city and air district said they plan to identify locations for sensors — which could be placed at offices, schools, nonprofit organizations and more — this fall and winter, with real-time data becoming available to the public potentially early next year.

In addition to the 100 air quality monitors, the pilot program includes funding to hire a contractor to conduct mobile monitoring as needed, and to support a community outreach program that will inform residents on healthy protective measures.

The new pilot program comes as increased attention has been focused on air quality, with wildfire smoke blanketing much of the Sacramento region for days at a time each year.

This summer, more than 20 rooftop air quality monitors were installed across North Sacramento and Oak Park as part of the California Air Resources Board's Community Air Protection program, in partnership with a coalition of local nonprofits in Sacramento. Real-time data from these monitors can be viewed on the public portal on Valley Vision's website.

Those rooftop monitors measure fine particulate matter known as PM2.5 and nitrogen oxides, two types of pollution that can result from pollutants emitted from cars, trucks, power plants, refineries, warehouses and other sources.

The microscopic particles can irritate airways, burrowing deep into lungs and even bloodstreams. And long-term exposure to nitrogen oxides can contribute to the development of respiratory diseases like asthma, and also increase susceptibility to respiratory infections (like COVID-19).

In Sacramento, lower-income neighborhoods with more residents of color already see a larger number of emergency department visits for asthma, according to data from the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment.

To view real-time regional air quality data from existing monitors, visit the Spare the Air and Air Now government websites.

©2021 The Sacramento Bee, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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