The Environmental Law & Policy Center’s (ELPC) new innovative Citizen Science for Community Environmental Health Advocacy Project focuses on reducing fine particle (PM 2.5, “soot”) pollution that medical research is identifying as a primary cause of asthma and other respiratory illnesses. Chicago has among the highest asthma rates in the country and hospitalizations are nearly twice the national average rate. Small particles exacerbate COPD, asthma, and other respiratory problems. ELPC, public health allies, and community partners are strategically focusing our advocacy work to reduce diesel pollution from construction equipment, railyards, trucks, buses and industrial facilities that emit particulates, which harm human health.
There is a confluence of new high-tech handheld pollution monitoring devices, new access to public health “big data” and new social media and micro-targeted neighborhood media that provides a potential breakthrough opportunity to transform the effectiveness and “citizen science” capabilities of community environmental health advocates to: (1) determine local air quality data, (2) assess public health and environmental impacts, (3) gain media focus, and (4) organize solutions-focused public engagement for pollution reductions.
ELPC is pioneering a new large-scale community air quality monitoring initiative and advocacy platform that is engaging diverse community partners on the South Side and soon other neighborhoods to create a comprehensive, real-time, block-by-block air quality database. We will combine this air quality data with other vital information (public health, demographic, socioeconomic, and education) to: help generate broad-based public support and political will to improve quality of life and environmental conditions; advocate viable solutions to reduce harmful diesel and other particulate pollution; and develop a replicable, scalable model that could be adopted by other cities. This initiative engages communities across Chicago with particular focus on environmental justice communities and areas with high air quality risks.