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In The 'Asthma Capital' Of The Country, An Ambitious Air Monitoring Project

skyline of downtown Springfield, Massachusetts

  A project will get underway later this year to monitor the air quality in Springfield, Massachusetts – once dubbed the “asthma capital” of the United States. 

   Sensors will be placed throughout the city to measure air pollution levels and provide information in real time to help people take steps to protect themselves from exposure.

  The project is being paid for by the office of Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey with $50,000 from settlement funds paid by polluters.

  "I give credit to my team for thinking about creative ways to use that settlement money," Healey said.

  Healey announced the project during an Earth Day event at Adams Park in Springfield’s Upper Hill neighborhood.

"The people here have for far too long been disproportionately affected by poor air quality," Healey said.  "If one-in-five children in Springfield is suffering from asthma or going to the emergency room with respiratory illnesses, that is just not right."

  A few years ago, Springfield was ranked the “asthma capital” of the United States by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation.   The city is considered an environmental justice community – a place where there is poverty, pollution, and health disparities by race.

   Springfield City Council President Marcus Williams thanked Healey and the other participants in the air monitoring project and said it would be a game changer.

"Because when our kids have clean air and grow up in communities with clean air, they have a better chance to excel in life and to live in a more equitable world," Williams said.

  Currently, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection collects data on air pollution in Springfield at only one location. Beginning this June, 80 air quality sensors will be installed across the city. 

      The project includes 40 long-term sensors that will collect information on concentrations of particulate matter and ozone and 40 short-term sensors that track information on toxins in the air.

Data from the sensors will be analyzed by scientists at Yale University and the Public Health Institute of Western Massachusetts.   There will be a website where people can see the minute-by-minute air quality information in their neighborhoods and take necessary precautions, said Sarita Hudson, Director of Programs for the Public Health Institute.

"So we'll be thinking about things such as safer routes to walk to school, better places and  times to exercise, and where we can plant trees," Hudson said.

The plan is to put a number of the sensors outside schools, libraries, and other public locations.  David Bloniarz, President of ReGreen Springfield, said the project is looking for neighborhood residents willing to host a sensor on their property.

"We're excited about involving the community, the residents, and bringing citizen-science to the table,' Bloniarz said.

The air quality sensor is about the size of a softball.  The only requirement of a host is to supply electricity and a wifi connection, said Bloniarz.

He said people interested in putting a sensor on their property can register at ReGreen Springfield’s website.


Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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