Olin College to Test Winthrop Air Quality

Thursday, June 28, 2018
By Sue Ellen Woodcock

Last Thursday night the Airport Hazards Committee hosted a professor from a local college who will be monitoring the air quality in Winthrop in relation to Logan Airport.

Aerodyne Research and Olin College, in Needham will be joining forces to monitor air quality in Winthrop and East Boston.

Prof. Scott Hersey, Phd. of Olin College, in Needham, who is a professor of chemical and environmental engineering, said this is actually a team classroom project. Plans call for the placement of eight sensors around Winthrop and East Boston.

Throughout the summer, Olin students and professors will use the ARISense technology that Billerica-based Aerodyne recently developed as an alternative to the more-costly Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) equipment used to measure pollution levels in and around Boston.

Olin students will then use the data collected by the ARISense instruments and compare the results against the more costly technology currently being used by the EPA.

The pilot program also aims to “break the paradigm” that pollution monitoring is solely within the realm of the EPA or the polluters themselves.

The EPA’s air quality monitoring technology costs upwards of $250,000 per senor, as opposed to $6,500 for the sensors being used. There are only four in operation throughout Metro Boston. Existing EPA monitoring networks are only designed to measure regional air quality, and report pollutant concentrations on an hourly or daily basis. According to Olin’s studies personal exposure to dangerous air pollutants can vary substantially over distances of a few blocks or a few seconds and the EPA’s monitoring is not set up to capture or characterize these pollutants in real time.

“This has a direct community impact,” Hersey said, adding that he also has an interested in the effects of winds forced downward by the airplane, also known as downwash which forces particulates down to earth. Other factors to consider are the ground equipment used at Logan Airport.

The monitors will continuously measure pollutants such as carbon monoxide (CO), carbon dioxide (CO2) nitric oxide (NO), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), and ozone (O3), as well as the mass concentration of fine and coarse particulate matter (PM), and all relevant meteorological conditions.

The Olin students will then spend the entire 2018/2019 academic year testing and refining the monitoring network and building a community-centered software system and user interface that will eventually provide Winthrop residents with real-time, locally-relevant air quality data.

The locations of the sensors have not been decided yet, but Hersey said he would love to put one on top of a school.

The results of the project are expected to be delivered to the town in May 2019.

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