Navajo Nation schools might get monitors

Teresa Seamster, Northern NM Group Conservation chair

It started as a small group call to get an air monitor set up in the Chaco Tri-Chapter area by Tribal Air Monitoring Service to continue the monitoring started by the Counselor Health Committee. Brandon Velivis, Ojo Encino Economic Development consultant, contacted a few colleagues to see where the monitoring project might go. Out of that one phone call, a few health advocates, Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency, and members of Northern Arizona University’s Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals, with decades of expertise in monitoring air quality and community outreach, are considering funding to install air monitors in possibly all 150 Navajo Nation schools.

On the call, participants gave introductions about the local air-monitoring work of the Counselor Health Committee, the newly developed wildfire air-quality reporting network under the Navajo Nation EPA, and the work of Northern Arizona University environmental professionals and interns interested in the air quality at Navajo schools and potential health impacts on children. When asked what the ideal air-monitoring network on the Nation would be, Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals Project Director Mansel Nelson replied: “In Alaska, we had monitors set up across the state. I think it would be a dream come true to have one in all 150 schools on Navajo Nation.”

Diné CARE NM Energy Organizer Wendy Atcitty said: “With air monitors at schools for students to collect data, this would be real STEM — not learning from a book.”

The push for greater access to local air-pollution data has grown rapidly in the last 10 years with convenient and inexpensive technology available to measure microscopic particulate matter (PM2.5) that comes from combusted hydrocarbons such as fires and oil-well and vehicle emissions. Purple Air offers monitors in the $170-$300 range that provide continuous indoor and outdoor PM2.5 levels that can be downloaded from phones, laptops or computers. The Purple Air global map gives real-time readings from thousands of locations around the nation and world.

The focus on measuring PM 2.5 pollution has sharpened with the publication of numerous health studies and findings that even moderate (under 100 mg/m3) continuous exposure to PM 2.5 leads to serious lung impairment, induced asthma and other debilitating respiratory conditions.

In a UC Berkeley Energy Institute blog by Meredith Fowlie, “My New Pollution Monitor: Gimmick or Game Changer,” the conclusion is: more is better.

“If these little sensors are going to be transformative, they’ll need to be more widely deployed. And the data need to be actionable so that people can understand where the most dangerous pollution problems manifest and how we might address them.”

After the telephone conversation in early July, we are hoping for a “game-changer.”

Featured image – map accessed 8/28/2020 from Purple Air.

Navajo Nation schools might get monitors