Bay Area groups make air quality sensors more accessible in low-income areas

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Friday, September 22, 2023
Bay Area groups help get air quality sensors in low-income areas
Some Bay Area groups are working to make monitors to track air quality more accessible for low-income communities.

SAN FRANCSCO (KGO) -- Some Bay Area groups are working to make monitors to track air quality more accessible for low-income communities.

You can buy an air quality sensor to put in your own home, but they can be pricey, ranging from $100 to $300.

Local groups are working to fill that gap, especially as smoke from wildfires in Northern California and Oregon continue to impact air quality.

The organization Brightline Defense has 19 monitors tracking the air quality in four San Francisco neighborhoods, including the Tenderloin and South of Market.

RELATED: Here's when Bay Area might see better air quality as smoky skies linger

The wildfire smoke may be from distant fires but the particulates in the smoke are still very damaging once they lodge in your lungs and produce inflammation and damage to cells.

"We had the opportunity to do these community input meetings, with particularly SRO tenants -- single room occupancy tenants -- that live in the Tenderloin/Mission District, and also throughout eastern San Francisco and ask them where they would like these air quality sensors cited, so that then they would know whether it's safe to go outside or not," said Brightline Defense Executive Director Eddie Ahn.

Ahn said they started this tracking in 2020 because of the wildfires then. Today, residents can check the data online in real time. And they're seeing the impact from these current wildfires.

"Air quality has gotten significantly worse, unfortunately, particularly in eastern San Francisco, where there's a dearth of air quality sensors -- sensors for low-income households," Ahn said. "And so, that's been a challenge to see that we have seen essentially. The air quality readings take a big dip, and that we've seen the air quality readings go to the red zone, meaning that people should stay indoors."

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The organization, Groundwork Richmond, has given out more than 20 purple air sensors to residents as part of their Air Rangers program.

"If you look at the air quality map, particularly with purple air sensors, you can see there is a discrepancy of where the air sensors are being deployed, and they are in more affluent neighborhoods," Executive Director Lorena Castillo said. "And so typically where the air quality is the worst is where there is a huge lack of sensors."

Groundwork Richmond also has some sensors in public spaces and has noticed worse air quality with the wildfires recently. It has some more sensors it is giving out to residents who qualify.

Castillo said this knowledge can help inform residents.

MORE: Track wildfires across San Francisco Bay Area, other parts of California with this interactive map

"They can make informed decisions about whether or not they want to send their kids to school, or whether or not they want to take that walk, at peak hours, where the air quality is really bad," Castillo said.

Brightline Defense is also working with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District on distributing 50 air filtration units.

The air district was awarded an EPA grant for community air monitoring in East Oakland, which will include air sensors.

You can go to the Groundwork Richmond and Brightline Defense websites for more information on their programs.

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