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Local Pollution Monitoring

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We visit a climate tech company in California that monitors pollutants at a hyper local level, helping tackle health issues and climate change. Reporter | Camera: Aaron Fedor, Producer: Kathleen McLaughlin, Editor: Kyle Dubiel

((TRT: 07:20))
Cleaner Air Block by Block))
Aaron Fedor))
Kathleen McLaughlin))
((Editor: Kyle Dubiel))
San Francisco, California; West Oakland, California))
((Main characters: 3 female))
((Sub character: 1 male))
((Davida Herzl
Co-founder & CEO, Aclima))

What I realized, I think growing up in a family of
entrepreneurs, sort of measure what you manage was a
mantra in business.
((Courtesy: Aclima))
And yet, when it comes to climate
change, we're actually missing the measurement infrastructure to understand where
emissions are coming from and who they're impacting. So, we set out to solve that.
((Davida Herzl
Co-founder & CEO, Aclima))
We now know that we have a climate crisis and that
have added up to global levels that are historic and unsustainable.
But all of those emissions come from local sources. And so, we have to understand them at the local
level in order to be able
to take action to address them.
((Courtesy: Aclima))
And so, hyper-local monitoring enables us to understand where
those pollution hotspots are and enables us to take really
targeted action to address those sources of emissions and to protect communities and protect public health at that local
((Melissa Lunden
Chief Scientist, Aclima))

Our mobile sensor network is fascinating in that involves
lot of different aspects of science and technology, all the way from how we design the device, which incorporates a
number of sort of the less expensive, small scale sensors that really allow us to shrink big
research equipment down to a small scale that you can use in cars to how do we get, how do we design that device and how do we operate the device, so we can get the kind of
data and data quality we need, all
the way to then how do you design, how do you
sample within a car while the car is moving?
And then, where do you send the cars to make sure that you're getting what we call a
representative sample on any particular road or street or part of town?
((Davida Herzl
Co-founder & CEO, Aclima))
One of the things that we've done over the course of the
years is partnered, really deeply,
((Courtesy: West Oakland Indicators Project))
with environmental justice organizations and advocates. And Ms. Margaret is one of the nation's
leading advocates. And several years ago, we teamed up
with her to do a groundbreaking
study that, for the first time, proved that air pollution is hyper-local, that it
can vary from one block to the
next by up to 800 percent. And the data that we generated with her and
with other academics in West Oakland was really
groundbreaking. It was the first time that that had ever
Ms. Margaret Gordon
Co-founder & Co-director, West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project))

I come from a family of activists, always involved in union,
neighborhood stuff, the church, school, March of Dimes or
((Courtesy: West Oakland Indicators Project))
Well, I also have asthma and two of my grandchildren have
asthma and one son. The Block by Block, came was a question
that we asked EDF [Environmental Defense Fund]. We asked that first because we knew that
((Courtesy: West Oakland Indicators Project))
all of the air monitors from the institutions such as Bare Air
Quality, five stories up. So, it's not at the ground level where people are. It's not at
your front door and it's not your... How did, how do you detect was at the ground level, at the sidewalk,
and then also into your house?
((Courtesy: Aclima))

((Melissa Lunden
Chief Scientist, Aclima))

I think the data is revolutionary because we really can see
what is happening on this block, what's happening on that block over there, what's happening in this neighborhood where there
happened to be maybe a lot of trucks that travel through the neighborhood
or particular other sorts of sources. Restaurants for instance or what not versus this other neighborhood which might just be
single-family homes and parks. And they might only be few
blocks away from each other. Our sensor devices measure a number of pollutants and it's
really unique about our system. We measure with our device
six different pollutants: carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, ozone, PM 2.5 [particulate matter], nitrogen dioxide and nitrogen monoxide. Those are all either criteria pollutants as identified by the EPA
[Environmental Protection Agency] or are climate pollutants like CO2. We also
measure, in addition to those, in separate units that we
combine into a single sort of
system, if you will, methane and ethane, very important climate pollutants that can also indicate
sources of perhaps natural gas leaks or other sorts of
signals like that as well as a pollutant we call black carbon.
Black carbon is a type of particle that is black but what it really measures
is diesel pollution, that the
black plume that comes out of like a heavy-duty diesel truck or a bus. That particular pollutant has health effects. It's considered a carcinogen by the World Health
It also has climate effects in that it actually
heats our environment.
((Melissa Lunden
Chief Scientist, Aclima))

This type of data collection is important because it really
allows us to see signals that are
really important to the communities. For instance, in West
Oakland, that's an area that is surrounded by freeways and it has the port on one side.
In addition, it has residential but also industrial areas within the community. And so, we can see, on an individual block level or set of block levels, what parts of the community
((Courtesy: Aclima))
are overly
impacted by these particular sources. The results from our
our mobile sensor platform really shows us how different
things can be
from one block to a next.
In our initial mapping in
the West Oakland area, we saw
differences in concentrations from one block to the block right next door that were
between five and eight times higher. That's huge.
((Ms. Margaret Gordon
Co-founder & Co-director, West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project))

The way we've been able to use the data is
((Courtesy: West Oakland Indicators Project))
pushing the city of Oakland to change policy around
housing, where you place housing.
((Courtesy: West Oakland Indicators Project))
My hope for West Oakland is that we have the same level of air quality as they have in
the hills of Oakland, same level they have in Piedmont.
((Melissa Lunden
Chief Scientist, Aclima))

As a scientist, what I'm sort of ultimately really excited about is the sort of big
picture view that our data can help inform.
You know, this view of pollution, you know, in all of these areas and how it
can help us really get a feel for our atmosphere and how we can
((Courtesy: Aclima))
…how we can make things better. How we can improve our climate.
How we can improve our planet's health. How we can
improve our own health. How we can move from the lungs of the planet to our very
own lungs because it's all connected.
((NATS: Davida Herzl and Driver))
((Davida Herzl))
And do they test all the new equipment with you or…?
((Driver, Aclima))
Yes, yeah.
((Davida Herzl))
You are the guinea pig.
((Davida Herzl
Co-founder & CEO, Aclima))

I think, we have the opportunity to bring radical transparency on a problem that has never really been seen at this scale before. We're literally making the
invisible visible. Doing that, I think, there's an opportunity to really quickly change the game on climate, on air pollution
and to finally fix these problems that are impacting so many
millions of people around the world.