Air Tracker shows pollution’s neighborhood path
Explore Air Tracker tool
For many communities, pollution has long been an unwelcome fellow resident, rearing its invisible head on particularly hot days or when nearby businesses are especially busy. And even though residents have a pretty good idea of its sources–industrial sites, idle trucks at warehouses, or busy freeways–they’ve lacked the scientific tools to pinpoint its point of origin.
Air Tracker is changing that. EDF and our partners have created a new online tool — run on real-time, trusted scientific models — combining air pollution and weather forecasting data to help users learn more about the air they’re breathing and allow them to see where it’s coming from.
Air Tracker users can drop a pin on the map and learn the likeliest source area of the air they’re breathing. The tool is currently available for Houston, Salt Lake City, Pittsburgh, Birmingham, AL and Vallejo, CA.
Air Tracker shows how emissions are most likely coming from an area to the south and west of the pin dropped on the map.
How local Houston sources impact neighborhood air
In Houston, the city’s lack of zoning coupled with historically discriminatory housing practices have placed many of its most vulnerable residents in the path of harmful pollution. And while communities now use improved air quality monitoring to show the impact of industrial polluters, they face the deep resistance to accountability. Air Tracker can help communities and local governments pinpoint potential sources of emissions, eliminating the finger pointing.
Residents of the Settegast neighborhood, for example, have long complained of heavy air pollution. As homes, churches and schools are nestled near a local railyard as well as other industrial sources, such as a steel fabricator, a metal recycler and nearby truck yards, identifying which business is the cause of pollution can be a challenge. However, using Air Tracker to look back over two recent days in May 2022: the 11th, and the 13th, the new regulatory monitor in the area, which often records PM2.5 levels that are much higher than other monitors around the city, we can see different industrial sources impacting pollution at different times. The tool points to source areas originating at areas in the west and southwest of the monitor from nearby railyards and mapped industrial locations.
By pulling in data from regulatory monitors–like Wayside–as well as low-cost sensors like Clarity monitors and Purple air, cities can gain a better sense of both the levels of pollution and which areas the sources of pollution are impacting most. Air Tracker can even allow users to create time-stamped maps to send to local government officials, showing them just how local pollution sources are impacting the air they breathe.
Expansion to new cities is possible
While currently available in 5 cities, Air Tracker can be adapted to be used in other areas–including those that may not yet feature extensive, hyper-local air quality monitoring programs. Efforts like Air Tracker can help communities and governments alike as they work to hold polluters accountable.
Explore the air tracker tool and learn more about its development and the partners behind it.