After a few technological hiccups, the state’s first permanent smog monitor built and operated by a citizens’ group is up and running in rural Southeast Wise County. And by the looks of this summer’s ozone season, just in the nick of time.
Conceived, designed, and supervised entirely by environmental scientist and UNT doctoral candidate Kari Northeim on behalf of Downwinders, the Atlas Monitoring Station is a first-of-its-kind adaptation of smaller, less expensive technology to perform the job of monitors many times its size and cost. It instantly becomes a huge milestone in our efforts to build a better system of air quality monitoring in North Texas.
The Atlas Station is a product of Downwinders’ Wise County Ozone Project, financed by a grant from Patagonia and an EarthTank prize won by Downwinders at EarthDay Texas in 2016. It’s objective is to collect continuous readings of Ozone, otherwise known as smog, in Wise County – until this week the only one of ten DFW “non-attainment” counties with no ozone monitors.
Besides being downwind of much of DFW’s smog, Wise County is the birthplace of modern “fracking” and blistered with gas patch facilities that produce significant amounts of smog-causing air pollution. However, the nearest official smog monitors are approximately 30 miles to the east in Denton County and 20 miles south in Tarrant County. Despite past state and private computer modeling predicting smog to be worse in Wise County than the rest of North Texas when “ozone season” winds are out of the south-southeast, there’s been no monitor there to test that hypothesis. Until now.
Accurate regional ozone readings are important to DFW because they determine how much in or out of compliance with the Clean Air Act we are. If smog levels being recorded by EPA monitors in their current locations aren’t reflective of higher smog levels actually being breathed in North Texas, then we need to know that and add more protective air pollution measures.
Last spring Downwinders bought two portable smog monitors the size of cable boxes from Colorado’s 2B Technologies at $5000 each. That’s a huge drop in price and size. Traditional EPA monitors doing the same job can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and take up a quarter acre.
2B factory-calibrates the monitors and they’re already certified by EPA, but from from June 2017 to March 2018, they were subject to additional testing by Kari at the University of North Texas (UNT) Engineering Lab.
Although small, these are incredibly reliable machines with an accuracy of greater than 1.5 parts per billion by volume, or 2% of the total reading. They measure ozone every ten seconds and can automatically average over a minute, 10 minute, or hour interval (like the state monitors do so we can compare apples to apples).
Small, portable, cheaper, but the monitors still need electricity. In order to have more siting options in a mostly rural county, the Atlas uses a 100 W solar panel to connect the monitors to the juice they need to take readings. Batteries provide back-up. This makes is a completely stand alone, self-sufficient monitoring station that we can put anywhere with a good south view.
Air is collected through a funnel and shuttled down a pipe that brings it into a weather-protected box where the monitor itself sits.
During the Wise County Ozone Project, one monitor at a time will be deployed for a period of 3-6 months. Unfortunately, there’s not a way yet to get real time access to the monitor via the internet, so instead data will be downloaded by Kari every month and compared to readings at those Denton and Tarrant County monitors. Not perfect, but better than no monitor at all.
According to Northeim, who expects to be able to mine several scientific papers with the data she collects, “This research is critically important to develop an understanding of the true ozone exposure in Wise County. It’s very exciting.”
Putting a Smog Monitor
Where No Smog Monitor Has Gone Before
EPA has 20 ozone, or smog, monitors in North Texas. Approximately half of those are considered “background” monitors on the edge of the denser urban areas. Originally the DFW “non-attainment area” for smog was only Dallas and Tarrant Counties. As the area’s populations grew, so did its air pollution problem and Denton, and Collin Counties were added, then Johnson, Parker, Rockwall, and Kaufman. Citizens petitioned and sued to bring Ellis And Wise Counties into the fold. All of these counties except Wise have an EPA smog monitor, despite Wise County being included in the non-attainment area since 2012, and despite state and private computer air modeling showing the County could have some of the region’s worst smog.
The early start to 100° + days in DFW this spring has meant an early start to high smog levels as well.
Although it’s not even summer yet, five official EPA ozone monitoring sites in North Texas have already recorded “4th highest” 8-hour ozone averages that put DFW above the 70 parts per billion federal standard for 2018: Grapevine 73 ppb, Keller 72 ppb, Dallas North (by I-635) 73 ppb, Dallas Hinton (Stemmons Freeway and Mockingbird) 72 ppb, and Denton Airport 72 ppb.
No matter what happens the rest of this 2018 “Ozone Season,” these numbers insure DFW will still be violating the Clean Air Act for a 27th year in a row.
Grapevine and Eagle Mountain Lake monitors have recorded the single highest 8-hour ozone levels in the state so far, at 89 and 92 ppb respectively.
Breathers will have to wait longer to find out how this year’s dosage will affect the all-important regional average, driven recently by the results from the Denton Airport monitor. The regional average is the highest 8-hour average number from any one monitor after averaging the 4th-highest ozone readings from each of the last three years. Extremely high years can be off-set by better years, or visa versa.
Slowly, the DFW regional ozone average has come down from the really bad old days of the 1990’s and early-Oughts. But for the last seven or so years, it’s plateaued in the 80-85 ppb range. As of 2017, Denton had a three-year, regional-leading average of 81 ppb.
Many observers believe the recent stagnation in the decrease of DFW smog is due to increased emissions generated by the Barnett Shale gas play taking up the slack from decreases from other large sources like kilns or cars.
A 2015 UNT study using the State’s own air modeling demonstrated the disproportional impact gas industry sources like compressors had on the area’s historically worst performing monitors in Northwest Tarrant County and Denton, accounting for up to 3 ppb of smog.
Closure or mothballing of three large East Texas coal plants will help keep the numbers down this summer from what they could have been, but it may not be enough to outweigh the impact of continued growth and reluctance by authorities to crack down on other large sources like the gas industry or the Midlothian cement plants.
And this summer’s early smog crisis is yet another reminder about why a 21st Century locally-controlled monitoring system is needed. During this last stretch of 100° + heat, when ozone levels were often climbing by 10 ppb or more per hour, the official EPA/State monitors were up to 2 and a half hours late. At 1 pm, a resident was still looking at 10 am data that was obsolete.
If the federal and state governments won’t do anything but make it more difficult to solve our chronic smog problem, it’s self-defense for local governments to at least be able to warn residents about how bad the air is in real time and at a location near them instead of the other side of town.
We raised another $3600 for air monitoring in Joppa amidst the most diverse “environmental” Big D event many could ever remember, with a program that won rave reviews from an overflow crowd. If you squinted, you could see the future. Thanks.
By almost any measure, the May 22nd benefit for air monitoring in Joppa fit the definition of success.
Packed crowd. Check
Engaging Program. Check
Political Game Changer…..Depends on what happens next.
As important as having a full house…was WHO was in the house. Here was a table of 10th Street Historic Neighborhood Association members, there was a table of Sierra Club members. Frazier Revitalization members sat next to Dallas Green Alliance leadership. For every green group represented there was a South Dallas neighborhood group also present and accounted for.
Not only was the event a success for Joppa, it has the potential to inaugurate a new era of cooperation between green and black groups in Dallas. One of the last orders of business were members of the Joppa Freedman’s Town Association reading a long list of needed reforms to be included in what they called the “Joppa Environmental Preservation District” that could be a model for other historically distressed Dallas neighborhoods. What started in Joppa could end up traveling to West Dallas, Pleasant Grove and Cedar Crest.
It was clear from the start this wasn’t going to be a staid program of speakers and performers. After about 30 minutes of eating, drinking, and mixing in the industrial chic of the GoodWork co-working space Downwinders now calls home, a booming ten-member section of the Sticks Mania professional drum line marched down Good-Latimer and directly into the event space. For the next 20 minutes, a sizable portion of a crowd at a Dallas environmental event could be seen sliding into outright twerking behavior, a probable first. You can see a video sample of Sticks Mania’s performance on our Facebook page here.
And you can see a gallery of highlights from the benefit on our website here courtesy of Norman J Jones.
Dallas’ own spoke word artist Rage Almighty did a great job of playing ringmaster for the evening’s progressive variety show as well as wowing the audience with his own verbal gymnastics and gyrations through the English language and race politics.
District 7 Council Member Keven Felder showed-up to give a rousing welcome and rally his constituents to be on guard for the re-submittal of batch plant permits by Martin Marietta. He also promised he was working on bringing cleaner industries to District 7 and Joppa.
Keith Price and Douglas Carter performed two dramatic monologues from “The Freedmens” fresh off its run at the Wylie Theater downtown. They
received a standing ovation at the end, and it was the first of many times during the night the audience could be seen dabbing their eyes.
Solakio Music provided the right mix of laid back soul and jazz that buffered the different segments and set the mood for whatever was coming next.
Comic relief and some added inspiration was added by the staging of a brief 2018 graduation ceremony for this year’s Downwinders’ College of Constructive Hell-Raising class. Almost a dozen new activists now “think more like organizers” after a ten-session, five month long course in affecting change. Each got a diploma from College “Dean” Jim Schermbeck and faithfully recited the school pledge to protect people and planet.
This year’s graduates heard their convocation speaker, civil rights legend Peter Johnson, talk about all the similarities between the fight against segregation in the 1960’s and the fight for environmental justice in places like Joppa today. Then they heard Dallas singer Vicki Larkin-Tovar belt out “Keeper of the Flame” as the class song:
“I’m the keeper of the flame
The teller of the story
For the ones that came before me
For the little pilot lights waiting to ignite
Like fireflies in the rain
Keeper of the flame”
After that it was Joppa’s turn to speak. Temeckia Derrough, Natasha Dunn, and Jabrille McDuffie from the Joppa Freedman’s Town Association gave effusive thanks to the crowd for their support and laid out the elements for “what environmental justice in Joppa would look like.” Ms. Dunn brought many to tears in describing the group’s struggle to organize itself and remain steadfast in the face of so much pressure to stop opposing the new batch plants.
Among the changes sought by the residents are a switch to electric locomotives in the 100 plus year-old Union Pacific rail yard, more and better pollution controls on the industry surrounding them, buffer zones separating people from polluters, and new zoning and enforcement provisions that will help them start to reverse decades of environmental racism.
Time and again the JFTA leadership reminded everyone they’ll need all the help they can get if they hope to see any of these reforms materialize. Downwinders and the Sierra Club have both committed resources to the community. That list of partners needs to get longer. In signing-on to help build a Joppa “Environmental Preservation District” Green Dallasites have an opportunity to take a big step in addressing our own historical blindspots as a local movement. Stay tuned as we try to make it easier for groups and individuals outside the neighborhood to provide support.
Meanwhile, thanks to the big crowd, a silent auction, bartender tips, and some sizable donations from the Sierra Club and Frazier Revitalization, $3600 was raised for the purpose of buying air quality monitors for Joppa. We’re combining that with the $1600 already collected, for a grand total of $5200.
Thanks to everyone who contributed, whether it was $25 or $250. To see what your money will be buying for Joppa keep reading…..
1. This monitor was built by the University of Texas at Dallas. It measures Ozone (smog) and Particulate Matter pollution. It’s already been picked-up and will be installed in Joppa in the next 30-45 days. It’s one of ten being placed around the region as part of a fledgling new air quality network. The public will be able to access its data online.
2. An Aeroqual portable Particulate Matter monitor like the ones Downwinders has already deployed inJoppa will be purchased with a protective case for use as both a mobile and stationary monitor in the community. While it records in real time, its collected data must be downloaded later.
3. Beginning in the fall, five small Particulate Matter monitors will be built by UTD for distribution in a grid in Joppa. They’ll be connected to the internet by a wifi nodule which will make the data available to the public in real time. This will be a pilot test for a larger regional grid network being built by a consortium of universities and municipalities.
In total, by the end of the year, we plan on having seven PM monitors up and running in Joppa. Dallas County currently has one. At that point the neighborhood will be among the most “wired for air” communities in the nation. But it’s only a start to addressing the environmental racism that’s impacted Joppa residents for generations.
All pics by Norman J. Jones, except Peter Johnson by Miles Moffeit. Short video of Sticks Mania drum line here.
90 second video summary of the evening by Norman J.Jones: