For the past month, smoke in the air on the West Coast has been terrible to breathe due to forest fires. Breathing this pollution is hazardous to your health, according to the EPA air quality index.
How do we know that? It is not simply because one can see smoke on the horizon or watch weather reports. The detailed information also comes from a citizens air quality monitoring network called PurpleAir.
PurpleAir is a simple technological device the size of a coffee can mounted outside peoples’ homes. It records fine particulate (also known as PM2.5) and course particulate (PM10) pollution found in smoke from forest fires. And it records this information at ground level (where you breathe it) on a 24-hour continuous basis.
By connecting a PurpleAir monitor into your home Wi-Fi, the readings are broadcast to a national network of PurpleAir monitors, from which you can instantly compare the air you breathe to the air in a neighboring township, city, or county. Further, the measurements are displayed in terms of the national Air Quality Index that is easily understood.
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The Clean Air Board has purchased two of these PurpleAir monitors and has installed them in and around Carlisle. Other private residents have installed monitors near their homes. Right now, there are five monitors around Carlisle, giving us a very detailed picture of particulate pollution around Carlisle.
PurpleAir monitors provide localized information not provided by official stations (which may be at distant sites). Many Californians who live in fire affected areas rely on PurpleAir monitors to determine whether it is safe to go outside. Pennsylvania does not have uniformly good air.
We experience weather conditions and pollution that can affect our local air quality. With the PurpleAir network, you do not have to rely on a weatherman to tell you whether it is healthy to go outside to exercise or run errands. See our local PurpleAir map. This valuable tool enhances our awareness of the air around us.
Thomas Y. Au is the president of the Clean Air Board of Central Pennsylvania.