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Lehigh Valley Breathes
Lehigh Valley Breathes is a project led by Lehigh and Northampton Counties to obtain and communicate localized information about particulate air pollution in the Lehigh Valley. The primary purpose is to provide policy makers and citizens with information needed to help improve the air we all breathe. The project is designed to enable and engage citizens in learning about air quality and participating in decisions that affect air quality.
As warehouse development has expanded in the Valley, it has contributed to an increase in mobile sources of air pollution, particularly from freight-truck traffic. Currently, air quality information in the Valley comes from two monitoring sites located in Freemansburg and East Allentown that are used by the PA Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to make sure that the region complies with the federal Clean Air Act. While these sophisticated monitors are capable of measuring a variety of air pollutants that are used to determine the Air Quality Index (AQI), they do not tell us how air pollution is distributed throughout Lehigh Valley.
The Lehigh Valley Breathes project will distribute and install 40 PurpleAir monitors throughout the valley to measure particulate pollution, which is commonly referred to as “PM2.5” and poses a serious health risk for humans and the environment. These small and inexpensive air monitors can be easily positioned in different locations, providing a highly-localized understanding of air quality that the state’s two centralized air monitors cannot.
By increasing the locations where PM 2.5 pollution is measured, the data will provide a more accurate understanding of how PM 2.5 is impacting the health of citizens in different parts of the Valley. And because the data provided by the PurpleAir monitors are available 24/7 on an easily accessible and dedicated website, Lehigh Valley residents can check on the air quality in their own neighborhoods.
What Does the Data Mean?
You don't have to be a scientist to interpret these results!
Click on the map to see the real-time data.
The Shiny App website provides 24/7 data from each of the PurpleAir monitors installed throughout the Lehigh Valley as part of the LV Breathes Project. As the project progresses, you’ll see more monitors added to the list.
The website includes data on total amount of PM 2.5 pollution in the area where the monitor is located, as well as the Air Quality Index (AQI) rating for each area, which is discussed below. For each monitor, citizens can select 4 different measurements of air quality: (a) real time measurements at the time the data is accessed, (b) measurements averaged over the past 10 minutes, (c) measurements averaged over the past hour, and (d) measurements averaged over the past week. The readings are color-coded to identify the level of concern associated with different amounts of PM2.5 pollution. Click on the monitors represented by the colored circles on the map to see the real-time data.
To add the link to the Shiny App to your phone's home screen, follow these easy steps:
In the United States, measurements of daily air quality are described through the Air Quality Index (AQI). While the general AQI covers various pollutants regulated by the Clean Air Act, this project focuses only on fine particulate pollution (PM 2.5), which is emitted from vehicles that use internal combustion engines, among other sources. Currently there is no distributed air monitoring network in the Lehigh Valley for PM 2.5 pollution. This project is designed to fill that void.
Why Does This Matter?
PM 2.5 pollution presents a serious risk to human health and the environment. This pollution is comprised of very small particles that are often invisible to the naked eye. The “2.5” is a reference to the size of the particle, which is 2.5 microns or less in diameter, or about 1/30th the width of a piece of human hair. Inhalation of these small particles is associated with a number of respiratory problems. The particles irritate the airways, and bypass the body’s normal defense mechanisms, lodging themselves deep within the lungs where they can cross into the bloodstream. For those who are already immune-compromised, as well as children and the elderly, the risk is even more substantial.
The most recent studies have identified PM 2.5 as increasing risk of the following health problems:
PM 2.5 also damages the natural environment by:
You can find more information about the health effects of particulate pollution here.
How You Can Get Involved
As we begin the project, we are looking for property owners who are willing to have us install a PurpleAir monitor on their home or business. This is essential to our success in characterizing air quality throughout the Valley. If this is something you are interested in, here’s how to get involved.
How the Project Works
The two counties have purchased the 40 monitors for use in the project. We are planning to collect data for a full year so we can assess pollution across all four seasons and in all types of weather. If you are interested in participating and in a location where we need an air monitor, we will ask that you allow us to install a PurpleAir monitor at your location. You can learn much more about the monitors at their website www.purpleair.com. The data collected from the air monitor at your location will be made publicly available in real time on the Shiny App mentioned above.
How to Participate
If you are willing to host an air monitor, you must meet the following two requirements.
Each monitor requires a source for electricity, preferably an outdoor outlet, and a WiFi connection. The monitor is usually positioned at about lung level and takes only one screw to attach to your building; it is approximately the size of a softball. If you prefer, we can also install it with a Ziptie. The monitor only sends data to the website and does not in any way interfere with your WiFi network. If you volunteer to participate, we’ll provide more details about installation. There is no cost involved to you.
There are two different types of locations where we will be installing monitors: (1) locations where there are likely to be elevated levels of PM 2.5, and (2) locations far away from sources of PM 2.5, where we can begin to get baseline readings of PM 2.5 unaffected by those sources.
The link below will take you to an interactive map that identifies those areas of the Lehigh Valley where we expect there may be elevated levels of PM 2.5 coming from warehouse related truck traffic. The white areas on the map show those areas. We are looking for installation sites within those areas. After you click the link to access the map (which is a satellite image and may take a few minutes to load), you can enter your address in the search box in the upper right corner of the map and then click on the search icon. The interactive map will then drop a pin on the map showing your location relative to those areas where we expect to find traffic related PM 2.5 pollution. You can use the “+” and “—” icons on the map to zoom in and out of your location.
Click here to visit the map: Interactive Map of Air Sampling Locations
If your address is within one of those white areas, we would definitely like to talk with you about installing a monitor. Please contact us via email email@example.com.
If your address is not within a white area, but you are still interested in participating, please contact us via email firstname.lastname@example.org with your address and we’ll be happy to talk further about whether your site is a useful one for the project.
What Else is Coming?
We’re just getting started on installations. We spent the first 5 months of the year calibrating all 40 monitors. Our aim is to get all the monitors installed during Fall of 2023. As the project progresses, we’ll be adding more information to this webpage so keep checking back. We’ll have analysis of the data to share, news releases, additional information on health impacts, and information on other air quality projects that are happening across the country. There’s a big successful one in Pittsburgh that our project is modeled on.
If you’d like to be added to our email list, please send an email to email@example.com and put “Email List Request” in the Subject line. We’ll make sure you’re added and kept up to date.
The quality of the air we breathe is important to all of us. As the saying goes, if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it. This is a first step to improving the air for all of us. We invite you to join us on our journey to improve how Lehigh Valley Breathes.