LENEXA - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced a $750,000 grant to Kansas State University in Manhattan, for a project that will use low-cost air pollution sensor technology to engage communities in South Chicago, Ill., to learn about their local air quality.

KSU is one of six research organizations granted more than $4.5 million in funding through the EPA’s Science to Achieve Results (STAR) program for air pollution sensor studies. Other grantees include the Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburg, Pa; Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston, Mass.; Research Triangle Institute, Research Triangle Park, N.C.; the South Coast Air Quality Management District, Diamond Bar, Calif.; and the University of Washington, Seattle, Wash.

Kansas State will create a partnership with local organizations in South Chicago to evaluate the effects of community-led research on the community’s understanding of air pollution. Memphis State University’s Dr. Wendy Griswold (formally on KSU’s staff) will lead researchers in developing sustainable, local strategies to monitor, analyze, and share measurement results about air pollutants.

The research project engages a coalition of eight partners, four of which are local community organizations working to improve air quality for citizens of South Chicago. Researchers plan to investigate whether people will become more engaged in and with their environment if they are provided with relevant scientific and technical tools, including low-cost portable sensors and appropriate technical assistance. The proposed work will involve air pollution monitoring in four diverse communities (three environmental justice and one non-EJ community) using low-cost portable air pollution sensors.

“Through these projects, scientists and communities will join together to develop and test new low-cost, portable, easy-to-use ways to measure air pollution,” said Thomas A. Burke, EPA science advisor and deputy assistant administrator of EPA’s Office of Research and Development. “This research will provide tools communities can use to understand air pollution in their neighborhoods and improve public health.”

While recent advances in technology have led to the development of low-cost air pollution sensors, they have not been widely tested, especially under field conditions. These grants will help fund research projects that explore how scientific data can be effectively gathered and used by communities to learn about local air quality.

The grantees will also study the accuracy of data produced by sensors and sensor networks. For example, comparing high-quality data from existing monitoring technology that is used to support air quality regulations.