From late October 2013 to early June 2015, the Citizen Sense research project collaborated with residents of northeastern Pennsylvania to develop a citizen-led air-quality monitoring project. Residents in this area were particularly concerned about the inadequate environmental regulation and monitoring in relation to expanding hydraulic fracturing activities, and had already begun to undertake community activities for monitoring environmental pollutants.
Citizen Sense worked with local residents to develop a monitoring kit that included Speck PM2.5 sensors, BTEX badges (for monitoring benzene toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene, volatile organic compounds commonly associated with petroleum-related activities), a community platform for mapping monitoring locations and viewing real-time and historic data, and a Frackbox, which monitored nitrogen oxides, ozone, volatile organic compounds, temperature, humidity and wind direction. Residents were also provided with a logbook of instructions, which suggested several options for recording observations of environmental conditions and health effects.
The Citizen Sense kit and sensors were distributed in October 2014 during a monitoring workshop and walk. In total, 30 monitors and kits were distributed to residents, and 3 Frackboxes were placed near infrastructure. The monitoring period ran for over 7 months, until June 2015. During peak monitoring activity, there were 23 active monitoring sites, and there was consistent monitoring taking place at up to 16 sites over a period of 7 months.
The data stories are generated using the Citizen Sense Airsift Data Analysis Toolkits, which were developed to allow for citizen-led interpretation of datasets. The core data available for interpretation is the PM2.5 sensor data using the Airsift PM2.5 Data Analysis toolkit. The Frackbox data and Airsift Frackbox Data Toolkit are also available as part of the resources section of our website. The Airsift toolkits use and adapt the open source software, openair, developed by atmospheric scientists for the analysis of air pollution data. In order to blur the exact monitoring locations, the monitoring locations have been labeled with township locations, which can be found in relation to Pennsylvania counties.
The 5 data stories presented on this site demonstrate the different patterns that have emerged from the data. Our hope is that the stories and the Airsift toolkits will provide a method and guide for others to undertake their own analysis of this citizen-gathered dataset, and to contribute to the wider development of citizen-led environmental monitoring and data analysis tools and practices.
I. The Location
Local sources of particulate pollution
Mehoopany 308 is located in Wyoming County, Pennsylvania. The PM2.5 monitor at Mehoopany 308 was situated on a covered porch at a residential location on the top of a hill. To the northwest of the porch is another forested hill. At its peak, the forest hill has an elevation approximately 500 feet higher than the porch monitoring location.
As can be seen in Figure 1, which includes geo-location data on hydraulic fracturing infrastructure documented by resident and participant Meryl Solar, there are a number of fracking sites surrounding the Mehoopany 308 monitoring site. (Note that this map is historic data to reflect conditions at the time of monitoring. The landscape is continually changing, and to see a more up-to-date map of current conditions see MarcellusGas.org.)
The monitor was located approximately 500 feet to the north of a nearby well pad. There are 3 producing wells, including separators and dehydrators along with 2 tanks, on the pad. Additionally, the monitor was located approximately 3 miles downwind from a compressor station. The compressor station has 10 operating compressor engines. Both the compressor station and well pad are to the south of the PM2.5 monitoring location. Two well pads with several producing wells on each pad are also located to the west. One well pad is approximately ½ mile away from the monitoring location, and the other is approximately 2 miles away from the monitoring location. (Additional well pads have been constructed further west since the PM2.5 sampling began.)
In addition to these well pads located in the immediate area, during the monitoring period there were 2 well pads just over 2 miles to the northwest with several wells not yet producing. There were 2 well pads less than 1.5 miles away with several wells not yet producing to the northeast. There was 1 well pad 2.5 miles to the northeast with wells drilled, but not yet producing. New well pads continue to be sited in this area on an ongoing basis.
Approximately 2.5 miles to the east of the monitoring location there is a large manufacturing plant. The plant emits over 1,700 tons of a variety of pollutants. Approximately 2 miles to the east of the monitoring location is a DEP VOC monitoring station. Approximately 3.25 miles to the east is a compressor station, which had 3 engines operating at the time of the monitoring period. A small liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant is now under construction adjacent to the compressor station, which has since had 3 more compressor stations added to the facility. Approximately 3 miles to the east is another compressor station with dehydrators and a few engines operating.
The immediate area around the monitoring location is largely characterized by non-industrial scale farming. There are four working farms and all fields are in use as agriculture. During May and June the location experienced high levels of pollen that should be accounted for when looking at the data.
Thirty-five miles to the north is the city of Binghamton, New York, and 26 miles to the southeast is the city of Scranton, Pennsylvania. The cities of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, are located over 200 miles southwest from the site.
II. Is there evidence of a problem?
The Speck device used to monitor PM2.5 particles is an “indicative” monitor. This means that measurements can give an indication of pollutant concentrations, but cannot be directly compared with national and international guidelines and standards in an “official” or regulatory sense. Despite this, indicative monitors are a well-established method within atmospheric science for carrying out initial surveys of an area to establish whether a potential problem merits further investigation. Indicative monitors are also increasingly becoming available for citizen-based air-quality monitoring, similar to this study.
Indicative daily mean concentrations of PM2.5 from the monitoring period at Mehoopany 308 are shown as a time-series chart in Figure 2. On a few occasions, the World Health Organisation (WHO) guideline of 25 µg m-3 for 24-hour daily mean concentration of PM2.5 is breached. As Figure 3 demonstrates, the 24-hour means at this site were generally low, i.e., below 15 µg m-3.
We refer to Figure 3 in Data Story 1 to set the regional baseline of 15 µg m-3, which is the approximate concentration at which regional “humps” in pollution peak. Data Story 1 provides the most comprehensive and extensive monitoring data, and is a good point of comparison across all data stories. Therefore, the 24-hour mean concentration of PM2.5 for Mehoopany 308 is generally at the regional baseline. On further investigation it can be seen that when isolating these breaches, for instance on March 12, the high spikes in PM2.5 are occasional.
III. Drawing the evidence together
Using the tools provided on the Citizen Sense Airsift Data Analysis Toolkits, we have characterized sources of particulate pollution detected by the Mehoopany 308 sensor as follows:
- Although there may be a local source(s) at Mehoopany 308, there are only a few occasions where there are significant elevations in concentrations of PM2.5.
- As a result, this dataset suggests there is little evidence of a sustained local source of PM2.5 at Mehoopany 308.
- There are no specific recommendations put forward for Mehoopany 308, as there is not a clear or sustained pattern of elevated PM2.5 levels detected.
Raphael Faeh contributed to the digital design and layout of the data stories.
Special thanks are due to the participants and residents in northeastern Pennsylvania who contributed to the design, development, and testing of the monitoring kit, as well as to the collection and analysis of data, and communication of results to wider publics and regulators. The Mehoopany data story received additional contributions from a participant who wishes to remain anonymous. For more information on project contributors, see Citizen Sense People.
The research leading to these results has received funding from the European Research Council under the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP/2007-2013) / ERC Grant Agreement n. 313347, “Citizen Sensing and Environmental Practice: Assessing Participatory Engagements with Environments through Sensor Technologies.”