EHS Management

Citizen Scientists: Air Pollution and Algae Projects

Although citizen scientists have always had a place in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) monitoring and surveillance regimen, information from the public now holds a prominent place in EPA’s new agenda. Yesterday we discussed two new projects using citizen scientists that the EPA is undertaking that could have a profound effect on facilities in the areas involved and, indeed, on facilities nationwide if the projects are deemed successful.

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The projects use what the Agency calls “innovative approaches,” or fewer resources from the federal government. Some of the projects use citizen science and crowdsourcing as an approach to addressing specific environmental priorities. The projects we reviewed yesterday involved water monitoring in Georgia and analyzing underwater videos in the Great Lakes. Today we will look at two more projects and include tips for actions you can take to protect the integrity of your facility. Even if these projects do not currently affect your facility operations, these tips can help you interact with your community in a way that reflects well on your company and will help you prepare for similar projects in your area in the future.

Measuring Air Pollution Mitigation at Schools

In this project, the EPA, the California Air Resources Board (CARB), and a number of local partners will expand on efforts to evaluate the effectiveness of vegetation and noise barriers near schools. An elementary school in Oakland will be able to acquire low-cost sensors to monitor air pollution over time as vegetation matures, and community members, teachers, and students will collect and analyze the data. The larger intent of the project is to provide useful guidance and educational materials generated to other communities as they implement strategies for reducing near-road air pollution exposures at schools.

The idea that data collected and analyzed in part by elementary school students could have a direct effect on your facility operations may give some environment, safety, and health (EHS) managers pause.

Action tip. Understand how these sensors are going to work and how the data collection and analysis procedures are going to be implemented. Make sure that you are complying with your air permits. This may sound like a no-brainer, but you would be surprised at how many permits are issued and then gather dust on shelves (or these days, in computers).

Make sure that you are able to communicate the conditions of your permit to any member of your community who asks. If your facility is viewed as a “polluter” in your community, be up front about the true environmental risks at your facility.

Measuring Algae Through Crowdsourcing

State environmental agencies in Montana are hearing from the public about algae growth along the Smith River, a popular river recreation destination in the state. The EPA claims that collecting the information needed to evaluate algae growths along a 59-mile stretch of the river is a challenge.

Its solution to the challenge involves capturing crowdsourced data by asking the public to provide critical information about the river during float season. The intent is that by collecting photographs and documenting algae along the river, citizen scientists will provide information that state agencies can use to determine potential causes and solutions.

Action tip. Be familiar with the crowdsourcing effort and where the photographs and documentation will be housed (likely and hopefully on a public website). If your community has a “photo day” or “water sampling day” or initiative, make sure you are there and provide some of the “science” for these citizen scientists. It is important to ensure that any data collected, especially if it involves your facility’s discharges, are not only accurate but also interpreted correctly. Probably no news to you, but there have been instances where total maximum daily loads (TMDLs) have been set for pollutants based on incorrect sampling and analysis.

Also, some people view any releases that must be reported on the toxic release inventory (TRI) as unlawful. Make sure folks in your community understand what the TRI program is about and what you have done and are doing to reduce the harmful effects of discharges from your facility.