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EPA Awards $750,000 for VOG Big Island Monitoring

August 9, 2016, 12:09 PM HST
* Updated August 9, 12:14 PM
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This photo taken on Jan. 16 shows a Northerly wind blowing the plume rising out of Pu‘u ‘O‘o crater to the south, while the voggy and smokey air is illuminated by the crepuscular rays of sunshine. Photo: Extreme Exposure Media/Paradise Helicopters.

This photo taken on Jan. 16 shows a northerly wind blowing the plume rising out of Pu‘u ‘O‘o crater to the south, while the voggy and smokey air is illuminated by the crepuscular rays of sunshine. Photo: Extreme Exposure Media/Paradise Helicopters.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today announced a $750,000 grant to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston, Mass. to develop a volcanic smog network of low-cost air pollution sensors on Hawai‘i Island.

MIT will create the Hawai‘i Island Volcanic Smog Sensor Network to track air quality changes caused by the emissions from the Kīlauea Volcano that impact health and agricultural crops.

The project will emphasize community engagement in collaboration with the Kohala Center in Waimea, local schools and health centers.

“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.”

Air quality near Kilauea volcano can be poor due to high emissions of sulfur dioxide from the volcano. The resulting volcanic smog or “vog,” a mixture of sulfur dioxide and fine particulate matter, has negative impacts on human health, as well as agriculture.

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“I’ve been amazed by the level of interest that community members on the Island of Hawai‘i have shown in learning more about their air quality,” said Professor Jesse Kroll of MIT’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Department of Chemical Engineering. “The vog—how much there is, what it means for people’s health, and what people can do to minimize exposures—is a major concern there, and we’re excited to provide a sensor network for community members to better understand their environment.”

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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, they will compare sensor data to established monitoring technologies that are currently used to support air quality regulations.

The grant is one of six totaling $4.5 million going to research organizations for development and use of low-cost air pollution sensor technology, and community outreach to help communities learn about their local air quality

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More information on EPA’s air, climate and energy research, go online.

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