Intern Kenneth Paik: What I’ve Learned So Far

Intern Kenneth Paik: What I’ve Learned So Far

Interning at Gasp has definitely brought a lot of things to my attention regarding health and safety in the city of Birmingham. Birmingham per se contains an immeasurable number of pollutant factors, all of which produces damaging toxins into our air. These factors include industrialized buildings, trains, cars, etc.

The population—you, me, family, friends, babies, grandparents—are ALL affected by the pollution in the air, and a change is vital for the safety of our lives. Because what originates from the minor emission of CO2 and ground level ozone may lead to an asthma attack or lung disease, seen especially in children.

During my internship at Gasp, I have been working on a project to help implement EPA’s Flag Program into local elementary, middle, and high schools of Birmingham and Jefferson County. The objective of this program is to use brightly colored flags to help students become aware of daily air quality conditions. When students know the daily air quality, they can adjust their daily routine to reduce exposure to air pollution.

With the help of Michael, Haley, and Kirsten, I am currently in the position of reaching out to science educators that may be interested with incorporating EPA’s program into their schools. Hopefully by the end of my school semester a majority of schools in the Birmingham and Jefferson County get involved with this essential and foundational program.

Federal Roundup: Recent Executive and Legislative Actions

Federal Roundup: Recent Executive and Legislative Actions

It’s been a few weeks since I updated everyone on executive and legislative actions. Sadly, this is not because there has been nothing to update; so this will be a long one! However, one reason this update is delayed is because I attended an inspiring conference two weeks ago that replenished my “hope budget” and gave me new energy to tackle the many and ever-growing attacks on clean air. Since I blogged last month, several new developments have cropped up and we have new updates:

New Developments

  • March 6, 2017: White House Announces Plan to “Close Out” Energy Star program: A spending blueprint would slash Energy Star and related programs, leaving $5 million “for the closeout or transfer of all the climate protection voluntary partnership programs.” According to our friends at ACEEE, Energy Star spend about $50 million through EPA and $7 million through the Department of Energy. According to the Obama administration, the Energy Star program saved consumers $34 billion in electricity costs and prevented more than 300 million metric tons of GHGs in one year while improving ambient air quality.
  • March 8: The HONEST Act (H.R. 1430): This proposed bill is sponsored by Lamar Smith, R-TX. The bill works “[t]o prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from proposing, finalizing, or disseminating regulations or assessments based upon science that is not transparent or reproducible.” This bill is an attempt to revise the EPA’s scientific review process that guides their rulemaking. The bill was introduced on March 8, 2017 and passed by recorded vote in the House (228 – 194) on March 29, 2017.
  • March 13: Executive Order on a Comprehensive Plan for Reorganizing the Executive Branch: President Trump signed this Executive Order, where the stated purpose is “intended to improve the efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability of the executive branch by directing the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (Director) to propose a plan to reorganize governmental functions and eliminate unnecessary agencies (as defined in section 551(1) of title 5, United States Code), components of agencies, and agency programs.”
  • March 15: Republicans Joint Resolution on Climate Change: A group of 17 Republican members of Congress signed a resolution vowing to seek “economically viable” ways to combat global warming. It pledges to “study and address the causes and effects of measured changes to our global and regional climates” and seek ways to “balance human activities” that contribute.
  • March 17: Ozone Standards Implementation Act of 2016 (H.R. 4775). This proposed bill, sponsored by Pete Olson, R-TX, was reintroduced and aims to update to the national ozone standards, with various provisions that would change the way the Environmental Protection Agency reviews standards for particulate matter, lead and other air pollutants. The same bill failed last year and we blogged about its potential disastrous effects on air quality and public health.
  • March 21: President Trump is Not Considering a Carbon Tax: despite a meeting between Republican elder statesmen and Trump Administration officials, President Trump announced he is not considering a carbon tax.
  • March 28: Presidential Executive Order on Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth: President Trump signed this Executive Order. The goal is to halt the United States’ government’s attempts to curb carbon dioxide emissions with the goal of encouraging American business. We borrowed the words of our friends at NAACP on this day to express our extreme disappointment with this negligent and potentially disastrous change in course for addressing the impacts of climate change.
  • April 5: Congressional hearing on the RECLAIM Act of 2017 (H.R. 1731): At the hearing, ranking member Alan Lowenthal, D-CA, stated “[t]he idea behind the RECLAIM Act is to take part of the large unexpended balance in the [AML Fund] and devote it to projects where cleaning up mines leads to economic and community benefits. This is, quite frankly, a win-win.” There was testimony from the bill’s lead sponsor, Hal Rogers, R-KY, and three witnesses. The hearing itself was a major milestone for the RECLAIM Act.

FOLLOW UP ON ACTIONS PREVIOUSLY COVERED

  • Congressional Review Act put into play by U.S. Congress: The CRA allows senators and representatives who disapprove of a regulation to enter a resolution eliminating it. The resolutions require the signature of the president. So far this year, the following rules protecting the environment and human health have been targeted under the CRA:
  1. The Department of Interior’s Stream Protection Rule: Update: On February 16, 2017, President Donald Trump signed the repeal of the Stream Protection Rule.
  2. Department of the Interior Methane Flaring Rule: The House voted on February 3, 2017 with no action so far from the Senate as of the date of this post. Update: on March 21, 2017, some Republican lawmakers came out against using the CRA to repeal this rule. Specifically, Sen. Lindsey Graham said he believed the rule could be subject to improvement, not just cancellation. “I think we can replace it with a better reg, rather than a CRA.”
  3. Drilling and Mining on Public Lands: On January 31, 2017, the House introduced a joint resolution that would repeal the rules that allow the National Park Service to manage private drilling and mining in 40 parks across the country.

Status of Bills in U.S. Congress covered in previous posts:

Bill Number Sponsor Description Status
HR 998 Jason Smith, R-MO Establishes a commission to identify obsolete and unnecessarily burdensome regulations to be repealed. It also sets goals for the commission to reduce costs by 15 percent and to prioritize major rules that are more than 15 years old and rules that can be eliminated without diminishing effectiveness. No action since the bill passed the House on 3/1/2017.
HR 1009 Paul Mitchell, R-MI Requires independent agencies to submit rules to the Office of Management and Budget before they are published—essentially giving the president tight control of the rule-making process No action since the bill passed the House on 3/1/2017.
HR 1004 Tim Walberg, R-MI Would require agencies to publish more detail of forthcoming rules and regulations No action since the bill passed the House on 3/2/2017.
HR 637 Gary Palmer, R-AL Blocks the EPA’s ability to address climate change No actions taken since the bill was introduced. You can read our analysis of the bill here.
HR 861 Matt Gaetz, R-FL Would abolish the EPA effective December 31, 2018 No actions taken since the bill was introduced.
HR 958 Sam Johnson, R-TX Would leave EPA with a budget of less than $1 billion. This bill would eliminate EPA climate change programs and would also close all of the EPA’s regional offices, halt new regulations on ground-level ozone pollution and require the agency to lease unused property No actions taken since the bill was introduced.
  • February 21, 2017: Letter sent from automobile manufacturers to Scott Pruitt asking him to relax emissions requirements: The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers sent a letter to Scott Pruitt (EPA Administrator) asking him to withdraw the Final Determination on Appropriateness of the Model Year 2022-2025 Light-Duty Vehicle Greenhouse Gas Emissions Standards under the Midterm Evaluation. Update: on March 15, 2017, President Trump announced plans to re-examine the CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards, taking a step back from Obama-era environmental regulations.
  • OMB Proposed Budget Cuts to EPA and NOAA: The proposed budget cuts would reduce EPA’s staff by one fifth in the first year and eliminate dozens of programs. Specifically, EPA’s staff would be slashed from 15,000 to 12,000. The proposed budget would also cut EPA’s grants to states, including air and water programs, by 30 percent and eliminate 38 separate programs in their entirety. Media outlets also discovered a four page budget memo that would slash NOAA’s budget by 17 percent, delivering steep cuts to research funding and satellite programs. Any such cuts would have to be codified through the congressional appropriations process. Update: U.S. Congress is currently in recess for the Easter holiday but are expected to consider OMB’s budget proposal upon their return.

Make sure you’re signed up to receive our e-newsletters. We send updates and action alerts about issues that could threaten air quality, public health, and the environment. We will also always provide ways for you to act on any development, whether it’s positive or negative.

The AirBeam Saga Part II: Placement and Testing Around 3 Birmingham High Schools

The AirBeam Saga Part II: Placement and Testing Around 3 Birmingham High Schools

Once I was able to understand how to connect the AirBeam to my phone, and to input data into its open source map, AirCasting, I was finally able to test the pollution around Birmingham. To learn how to connect the AirBeam to your phone, and how to operate AirCasting, check out my previous blog post here.

The sunroof was closed almost completely shut, except for a tiny space to allow the rope to go through. This allowed the AirBeam to be securely placed at the top of my car. Sometimes the AirBeam would move around if I drove too fast, but for the most part, its movements were really small.

On one day of testing, I was driving a different car so the orientation of the AirBeam was standing up instead of lying down. The way and where exactly you decide to orient your AirBeam is up to you, as long as the intake and exhaust areas of the AirBeam are pointing to the outside. And if you decide to orient the AirBeam standing up, it’s better to flip the AirBeam so that the bottom of the AirBeam is in the direction of the wind. This will increase the accuracy of the data collected. It’s also important to remember that the AirBeam is not waterproof, so if it starts raining, you should take the AirBeam inside.

I decided to test the air quality close to three Birmingham city high schools: Mountain Brook, Homewood, and Jackson-Olin. The reason why I chose those three high schools is because they are in different areas in Birmingham, and each high school represents a different socio-economic bracket. I did not test the data on school grounds, because it’s against the law unless consent is given by the schools, but I would park around a minute away from each high school and collect the data on a public road. I just wanted to emphasize that I am a law-abiding citizen, and that jail would seriously deter my plans to graduate college in 2018.

In order to get the most accurate results, I decided that it would be best to test the air quality on three different days, using the same path each day, and starting the testing around the same time. I also tried my best to avoid highways, because I wanted to collect data in areas that were in close proximity to people that were outside.

I created a sheet that helped me organize the data collected. If you would like to conduct your own data collection study, you can print this sheet out.

The weather on the three days I tested were, coincidentally, quite different. On the first day of testing, I unfortunately forgot to take a pic near my first site, Mountain Brook High School, but I was able to take pictures of my other two stops.

For Jackson-Olin High School, AirCasting was not displaying the air pollutant data, only the decibel reading of the AirBeam’s microphone. After messing around with the maps and sensor data, I realized that no particulate matter readings were recorded, because only the sound sensor was working near Jackson-Olin High School.

  • Tools to Rig AirBeam
    Tools to Rig AirBeam
    I used some rope and bungee cords to connect the AirBeam to my car.
  • Inside My Car
    Inside My Car
    I connected the bungee cord to my car’s two sun visors. I then connected one end of the rope to the middle of the bungee cord, and the other end of the rope to the AirBeam.
  • AirBeam on Top of My Car
    AirBeam on Top of My Car
    The sunroof was closed almost completely shut, except for a tiny space to allow the rope to go through.
  • AirBeam Diagram
    AirBeam Diagram
    This photo is courtesy of http://www.takingspace.org.
  • Google Map of Route
    Google Map of Route
    Before collecting data, I mapped out my route.
  • Homewood High School
    Homewood High School
    The average reading near Homewood High school was 10 μg/m3
  • Mountain Brook High School
    Mountain Brook High School
    The average reading near Mountain Brook High school was 8 μg/m3
  • Jackson-Olin High School
    Jackson-Olin High School
    AirCasting was not displaying the air pollutant data, only the decibel reading of the AirBeam’s microphone.

Note: Although only three days of data are mentioned in this article, I actually tried to collect data on more days. For example, on one extremely cloudy day, it started raining after I collected data near Mountain Brook. The data was still collected and used as an average for Mountain Brook. I tried to delete it from AirCasting, but I realized that it does not let you delete any of the data once it has been sent to CrowdMap. I initially tried to make the number of testing days equal for all three high schools, but some unforeseeable circumstances has allowed some high schools to have more data than others.

The AirBeam Saga Part I: Installation and Connection to AirCasting

The AirBeam Saga Part I: Installation and Connection to AirCasting

[Editor’s Note: Be sure to click on the images to enlarge them, especially if you plan to try this at home.]

Before I conducted my pollution study around the city of Birmingham, I needed to test the AirBeam itself. The AirBeam is a portable air monitor that is used to collect pollutant particles. You can purchase an AirBeam at http://www.takingspace.org/aircasting/airbeam/. Once I saw the small box the AirBeam came in, I got really excited. Surely, this will be an easy setup and execution…right? Thankfully, after 15365733 some mistakes, I was finally able to get the setup and execution right. I hope this rundown will prevent you from wasting your time, and make your use of the AirBeam an easy and carefree process.

First of all, the box the AirBeam came in was really small. Unfortunately, that meant that there was no instructor’s manual. The manufacturing company, thankfully, did in fact leave a blue card in the box. Displayed on the card was a link to an online website that had more information on how to use the AirBeam.

The website which is found on the card is www.takingspace.org, which is the same website that was used to purchase the AirBeam. It was really helpful in understanding the different parts of the AirBeam. It also introduced me to the app AirCasting, which is used to map all of the data collected from the AirBeam. An important thing to note is AirCasting is currently only available to Android users. The website didn’t really explain how to connect to AirCasting, except that AirBeam and AirCasting are connected via Bluetooth. After many tries and Youtube videos, I was finally able to figure it out.

First, you need to download the AirCasting app from the Play store on your phone. It’s free so don’t worry!

Then, you should turn on your phone’s Bluetooth. A device with the name “AirBeam” should appear. Make sure to pair the AirBeam with your phone until it becomes part of the paired devices. I noticed that the first couple of times I connected my phone to the AirBeam, a passcode popped up on the screen. Write the passcode on a piece of paper, because you will need that later on. It’s also important to note that the passcode changes with each connection. So if a disconnection occurs with the Bluetooth, you need to write down the new passcode. After using the AirBeam a couple of times, I noticed that a passcode stopped appearing. That might occur to you too and that’s okay! It just means that the AirBeam stayed as a paired device, and so no passcode is needed.

 

By the way, please disregard the words “FlashCube” in the picture above. It is another device that I have connected to my phone. It is irrelevant to the AirBeam.

Open the AirCasting app and hold onto your phone’s back button for a couple of seconds and this should appear:

Click on “Settings” Then click on “Profile” at the very top to create an account. It is important to create an account, because it will help organize your data and the account name is what will appear on the AirCasting map.

After making the account click on “External Devices”, and click on “Connect” next to the word AirBeam. At this point, a popup asking for the passcode will appear. Put the passcode in and it should connect.

You will be correctly connected if this appears:

After that click on your phone’s back button to go back to the main page of the app.

Now is the time to use the AirBeam. Turn on the AirBeam. The dark red bulb should now display a light red light. If the AirBeam is connected correctly to the AirCasting app, the light will blink a couple of times, then become solid red like in the picture below. From time to time, the light might blink again and that is also fine. Be careful, because if the light is blinking consecutively, then that means the AirBeam is not connected to the app properly, and you need to repeat the above steps again.

Go back to the AirCasting app and click on “Start Recording.” This should appear:

It will sometimes switch to this:

If it switches to the above picture, then that means that the AirBeam is only collecting the decibel reading of the sound travelling around you. If your goal is to collect air pollution, like mine is, then it is imperative that the AirBeam is collecting the particulate matter readings. You should restart your recording, until you see the four colored blocks appear.

Click on “Stop Recording” whenever you have finished collecting the data. AirCasting will ask you to input the session details.

You will then be asked if you want to contribute to CrowdMap. Click: “Yes, save and contribute.”

To access CrowdMap to see if your data was collected go back to www.takingspace.org and click on “Maps” in the upper left corner.

After clicking on “Maps”, a map similar to this should appear:

Click on “Mobile” in the upper right corner. Search for your results by putting your profile name under “Profile names.” Then click on the “Submit” button. You might need to click the “Submit” button a couple of times, until the “Sessions” section at the left of the page starts to display your results.

Click on any one of the data points you collected under “Sessions” and you will have something like this appear:

My favorite part of AirCasting is the CrowdMap. Click on “CrowdMap” in the upper right corner. Search for your results by putting your profile name under “Profile names.” Then click on the “Submit” button. You might need to click the “Submit” button a couple of times until the “Sessions” section at the left of the page starts to display your results. You might also need to wait while the map is being loaded.

The colored squares on the map are your results. Zoom in by clicking on the plus sign at the bottom of the page. This will really help you follow the path you took during data collection, and actually show you more readings. The more you zoom in, the more squares appear unless you collected data at only one point.

Clicking on different points of the data squares will show the average reading value taken at that point.

Make sure to check back here next week, because I will show you how to connect the AirBeam to your car. I will also share my results with you. If you have any questions or issues, leave a comment below or email me at dania@gaspgroup.org.

Gasp Launches New Online Air Quality Tool

Gasp Launches New Online Air Quality Tool

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Gasp Launches New Online Air Quality Tool

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (Jan. 5, 2017) — In an effort to reduce exposure to the harmful health effects of air pollution, Gasp this week announced that it has released a new online tool for users to get the current and next day’s air quality for the Birmingham area.

The Air Quality Widget displays the current air quality index, or AQI, with a corresponding color code based on the Environmental Protection Agency’s AirNow data. It updates twice per hour. The Widget also displays the following day’s forecasted AQI.

Gasp is making the Widget available for other websites to use as well. The code is available at gaspgroup.org/air-quality. Website administrators can simply paste the script into their website’s source code to render the Widget anywhere on their site. The Widget code is also available for different cities anywhere in the United States.

“As part of our mission for healthy air, we feel it is absolutely vital for everyone to have quick and easy access to the air quality report — just like the weather report,” said Outreach Director Kirsten Bryant. “We encourage everyone to bookmark our website so they can simply open their browser and get the current air conditions in just a click.”

The widget also links to information about the air quality index; the color-coding system used by the EPA; and information about the health effects of individual pollutants.

The new Air Quality Widget is an updated of a prior version of the tool that became obsolete after the EPA improved its security and data management.

Please contact Executive Director Michael Hansen at 205-746-4666 or michael@gaspgroup.org for more information about the Air Quality Widget or other programs.

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Gasp is a nonprofit health advocacy organization based in Birmingham, Ala. Our mission is to reduce citizens’ exposure to air pollution, educate the public on the health risks associated with poor air quality, and encourage community leaders to serve as role model by advocating for clean air and clean energy. gaspgroup.org

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