The Center for Sustainable Communities (CSC) announced a grant of $498,401 from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for the study Monitoring Air Pollution in Underserved South Atlanta (MAP-USA).
Similarly, AQEarth just announced it would be hosting an environmental justice tour, in conjunction with local groups West Atlanta Watershed Alliance (WAWA) and Community Health Aligning Revitalization, Resilience, and Sustainability (CHARRS), to kick off its AQEarth West Atlanta study for air quality and pollution.
Center for Sustainable Communities
“We are excited to engage with schools and communities who live adjacent to highway systems and are exposed on a daily basis to pollutants to lower their quality of life,” said Garry Harris, founder and CEO of CSC. The study will work to “monitor air pollution caused by transportation-related emissions and harmful effects on our underserved communities,” according to Harris in a statement.
The study will work in conjunction with Georgia Tech researchers and will track particulate matter (PM) 2.5. PM 2.5 has been linked with several detrimental health effects. It’s important to note that PM 2.5 is not one singular compound, but rather a variety of compounds that can come from a variety of sources.
This study, however, will mostly focus on PM 2.5 that originates from fuel and transportation emissions for communities close to the highways. Highways that, it has been well documented, were deliberately put in poorer and communities of color to destroy neighborhoods and act as a barrier to segregate these neighborhoods from the rest of the city.
The CSC said it took on this project because it can advance their mission of using just science towards a just outcome.
“We’re trying to make the world more just, sustainable, equitable and resilient for all,” Harris said. “And on top of that, we overlay science, technology, engineering and research into everything we do as well, and we call that “just science” — applying those and looking for a just outcome.”
A just outcome, Harris said, one that is accessible by all and shares research. Recently, the CSC won the Community Accelerator Prize to advance community solar in underserved communities in conjunction with a team in Texas, the Hero X Prize, and the Community Clean Energy Coalition Prize. They’ve also joined or helped a number of coalitions in Atlanta like ReBuildATL which recently graduated its first workforce training program called Breaking Barriers Through Deconstruction.
Recently, the CSC also launched the National Environmental Justice Institute alongside Atlanta Metropolitan State College. The Ray C. Anderson Foundation awarded CSC two grants to work with Drawdown Georgia, which brought to life the justice institute.
The title of the project wasn’t chosen lightly. The adjective “underserved” is deliberate, and is a driving force behind why South Atlanta was chosen for the study, Harris said. Historically, South Atlanta has been underserved compared to its counterparts in other parts of the city like Buckhead or Midtown.
As noted, the highways were in large part a form of weaponized infrastructure against impoverished and minority communities. Thus, this study has the potential to understand what side effects of the vehicles on these highways have had on the public health of these places, and to inform policy on how to rectify these determinants.
“We are excited to engage with schools and communities who live adjacent to highway systems and are exposed on a daily basis to pollutants to lower their quality of life,” Harris said. “With our TEAM including the Georgia Institute of Technology among others, we will both conduct research and apply strategies to reduce impacts from these pollutants, especially our youth.”
A critical component to the successful implementation of any of the projects, said Harris, is making sure that the people in the community know what’s happening around them and are aware of the opportunities to get involved.
“We’re out in the streets talking to folks, how to get engaged with these federal tax incentives, how to get money from the federal government to install a heat pump. All these billions of dollars — how do we get people involved?” Harris aksed. “But there’s a trust factor. We want to build trust through meaningful engagement; not only informing, not only consulting, but we have to build capacity in these communities and empower folks as well.”
AQEarth West Atlanta
The second project to receive funding for air quality monitoring is AQEarth. According to it’s website, AQEarth is funded by a Phase II Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) grant from the National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS).
“This project is focusing on air quality in West Atlanta, and has sited a monitor at a local fire station and is working with schools and community members to use handheld PAMs around the neighborhood,” according to the website. PAMs — personal air monitors — allow individuals to “measure the air pollutants like CO, CO2, particulate matter (PM1, PM2.5), and total volatile organic compounds (tVOCs) along sidewalks, schools, workplaces, and inside vehicles like cars and buses,” according to the website.
The study chose five key neighborhood planning units (NPUs) for the study: NPU D, NPU G, NPU H, NPU I and NPU J, all located in Westside Atlanta.
Similar to CSC’s study, AQEarth’s study seeks to empower residents to know what their air quality is like, where pollutants come from and how to take meaningful action towards addressing it.
The study will kick off later this month on Sept. 16, following an Environmental Justice (EJ) Bus Tour and Workshop created for residents, local officials, universities and business professionals. Tickets are free and can be found here, along with more information about the event.
The goal of the tour and workshop is to tell the story of Westside Atlanta’s history through an environmental lens and understand how the area reached certain outcomes it has today. One of the most recent examples of environmental disaster deals with the highly poisonous metal lead, with areas of Westside Atlanta designated a superfund site due to elevated levels of lead found in the soil.
Though using different methods and serving different areas, both studies ultimately seek to do one thing — improve the quality of life, through improved air quality, for often neglected communities in Atlanta.