In the "Meaning from Monitoring" project, we tried to take real-time measurements of toxic gases (mostly) and PM2.5 from Richmond, California (near the Chevron oil refinery) and Rodeo, California (at the fenceline of the Phillips 66 oil refinery) and make the data more accessible and useful to community members advocating for pollution reductions.
Among the strategies we tried:
- developing a new website to enable people to explore historical data
- creating a "user report" function to allow residents to annotate the data with smell reports and photos to document flares, etc
- using FitBits and pulse oximeters to track health metrics alongside air quality measurements.
Our key findings are summarized in "Making the Most of Monitoring." The most important things we found were:
- the more data you have, the more infrastructure you need to store and maintain it.
- the more data you have, the more creative you need to be about how to interpret it--and you may want to get data experts involved (we found we needed to).
- monitoring can divert attention from the more important issue of pollution prevention per se. It's worthwhile to recognize that potential trade-off before moving in the direction of monitoring.
These findings apply not only to the relatively high-tech, high-cost monitors being used in Richmond and Rodeo (optical open-path sensors, including a portable version called a Hound). They apply to PurpleAir and Awair devices, as well--any monitoring strategy that's going to produce a lot of data is going to come with comparable problems of data management and interpretation.