UBC Grad Student Air Monitoring Study

UBC Strathcona and Downtown Eastside Air Quality Monitoring Project

A group of UBC grad students will be running an air quality study in parallel with the SRA/Port study. They are currently seeking residential homes to host monitors between February and August of this year. Below is info about their study and the specific monitor they will be using. If you interested in hosting, e-mail us at AQProject@strathcona-residents.org with your address and any questions.

Purpose: The Strathcona and Downtown Eastside neighbourhoods in Vancouver are communities of concern for air pollution and environmental injustice. This is due to their proximity to the Port of Vancouver and busy transportation corridors, and high proportions of Indigenous, unhoused, and low-income residents. As the Port of Vancouver expands, so will shipping, truck, road, and rail traffic. The associated emissions raise concerns as these pollutants have serious health impacts. Since pollutant concentrations can vary significantly from block to block, identifying local air pollution patterns is critical to addressing environmental injustice issues and designing intervention strategies. The main objective of this work is to assess air pollution trends and exposure in the communities.

Methods: A network of 16 low-cost air quality monitors will be deployed in different parts of Strathcona and the Downtown Eastside for six months in 2022. A map of air pollution concentrations will be developed in collaboration with residents to identify areas of elevated air pollution and possible sources. The map will enable researchers to connect air pollution to sociodemographic variables at the Census dissemination area level. From this, exposure estimates for a variety of sociodemographic groups within the neighborhood will be calculated. To capture how people move through pollution micro-environments, we will estimate personal exposure using time-log activity data provided by a sample of approximately 30 residents.

Who are the researchers?  We are a group of researchers from the Mechanical Engineering department at the University of British Columbia (UBC) who focus on measuring and modeling air pollution. We are extremely interested in studying questions related to air pollution exposure, disproportionate exposures based on sociodemographic characteristics (i.e., environmental justice), and potential exposure mitigation strategies.

Principle investigator: Dr. Amanda Giang (Assistant Professor, Mechanical Engineering and the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability)

Principle investigator: Dr. Naomi Zimmerman (Assistant Professor, Mechanical Engineering)

PhD researcher: Rivkah Gardner-Frolick (Mechanical Engineering)

PhD researcher: Sakshi Jain (Mechanical Engineering)

Undergraduate researcher: Nika Martinussen (Engineering Physics)

This work is funded by UBC’s Public Scholars Initiative. The Public Scholars Initiative funds work that will have a tangible impact for the public good.

About the Monitor

We will be using Real Time Affordable Multi-pollutant Sensors (RAMPs).

(photo: RAMP Monitor, from SENSIT Technologies)

RAMP monitors consist of six sensors housed in a shoebox sized weather-proof plastic container. They are light, portable low-cost sensors that can measure a variety of air pollutants including particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, and ozone which are emitted by sources like vehicles.

Monitor siting

  • Can be zip tied to fences, railings, window grates, or other structures
  • Can be attached to an existing pole or pole installed by researchers if needed
  • Require outdoor power outlets or the ability to route an extension cord to an indoor outlet (with a cord of ~15 meters)
  • Location requirements
    • Relatively secure where the public won’t be able to easily access the monitor. For example, behind a fence, 2-3 meters above the ground, on a private patio, etc.
    • Access for setup/teardown and maintenance
    • No wood burning fireplaces in use
    • No plans for the host to move for the duration of the study (March 2022-August 2022)

Monitor setup/teardown

  • Monitor setup is estimated to take about an hour and will be arranged for a time that is convenient for both the hosts and the researchers
  • Researchers would like to have a short (5-minute) video call before the setup to determine the appropriate equipment to bring for setup, such as extension cords, ladders, zip ties, etc.

Monitor maintenance

  • Hosts do not need to check on or do any maintenance of the monitors
  • The status of the monitors can be seen online by the researchers
  • Researchers may need access to the monitor for up to a couple hours for maintenance but if the location is accessible to the researchers without the hosts present and they have the hosts’ permission to access the monitor, the hosts will not need to be there
  • Researchers may remove the monitor for extended maintenance if necessary
  • It is unlikely that maintenance will be necessary more than once or twice over the course of six months

Monitor data transmission

  • The monitors do not collect any information (including identifying information) outside of pollutant concentrations
  • Monitors do not require WiFi, each monitor has a cell phone plan that transmits the collected data every 15 minutes
  • Researchers can monitor data online in real time and will be quickly alerted if the monitor isn’t working properly
  • Researchers may contact hosts if the monitor seems to be malfunctioning and ask them to check if it is still in place. Ideally, hosts would be able to respond to emails from the researchers within a couple business days. If the hosts cannot check on the monitor, they may be asked to allow the researchers to check on the monitor at a mutually convenient time.

Benefits of having a monitor

  • There are no direct benefits from hosting a monitor
  • Hosting a monitor contributes to a greater understanding of neighborhood air quality, personal exposure to air pollution, and potential ways to reduce exposure
  • Hosts will receive a personalized air quality report specific to their location at the end of the study period

Addressing potential concerns:

  • What is the cost of hosting a monitor?
    • Monitors require an additional $15-30 of electricity over the 6-month period
    • Hosts will receive $50 for participating in the air quality study
  • Will others be able to connect the data to my house or business?
    • Monitor data is available online but only with a specific URL and is only identified by monitor ID, not a location so it is extremely unlikely anybody from the public could identify the location of the monitor
    • Data will be used in various visualizations and maps but will not be connected with a specific location beyond identification of cross streets
  • What happens if the monitor is damaged while at my house or business?
    • UBC understands that it is possible for events beyond the researchers’ or hosts’ control to happen that may result in monitor damage
    • UBC will not hold hosts responsible for accidents
    • UBC has insurance for the monitors

Our contact information:

Rivkah Gardner-Frolick rivkahgf@student.ubc.ca

Sakshi Jain sakshij@student.ubc.ca

Host Timeline

  • Contacted by the Strathcona Residents Association: November-February
  • Fill out intake assessment: November-February as soon as possible after expressing interest in hosting a monitor
  • 5-minute video call with UBC researchers: a convenient time during November-February once the intake assessment has been filled out
  • Setup of monitors: March
  • Hosting the monitor: March – August
  • Teardown of the monitors: August
  • Optional: participate in additional research on personal exposure to air pollution and keep a log of your location for two weeks in May/June