UTEP Tracks Traffic-Related Air Pollution Near Regional School Zones
Last Updated on October 07, 2020 at 12:00 PM
Originally published October 07, 2020
By Christina Rodriguez
The University of Texas at El Paso’s Department of Civil Engineering was awarded $30,000 by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) through the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at The University of Texas at Austin to address community exposure to traffic related air pollution near school zones in the Paso del Norte region using low-cost air sensors.
Through this award, researchers at UTEP and Universidad Autonoma de Ciudad Juárez (UACJ) will conduct a case study to analyze the air quality of the Paso del Norte region aimed at reducing exposure to traffic-related air pollutants in children, particularly those who attend schools near heavily traveled roadways.
Leading the research efforts at the University are principal investigator Wen-Whai Li, Ph.D., professor of civil engineering; co-PI, Mayra Chavez, Ph.D., postdoctoral research associate; and Evan Williams, undergraduate research assistant. Adrian Vazquez Galvez, Ph.D., professor of civil engineering, is charged with research efforts at UACJ.
The study will address the air quality issues in the Paso del Norte region by strategically placing low-cost air sensors, requiring only a power outlet and WiFi, near schools throughout El Paso and Juárez, Mexico. The sensors will provide the research team with real-time, precise air quality measurements and related data to develop an algorithm that predicts air pollution for near-road receptors.
“We are concerned about the impacts of traffic-related and regional industrial pollution on the health of children and community residents in the border cities of the Paso del Norte region,” Chavez said.
The need to address exposure to traffic-related air pollution is imperative due to the high rate of urbanization and industrial development of the region that has led to rapidly deteriorating air quality. The region’s air quality also faces unique challenges due to a number of factors that include complex terrain, arid weather, frequently occurring temperature inversions, congested roadways, insufficient emission inventory for Juárez’s uncontrolled emissions, a large number of underserved communities and rapid urban sprawl.
“Transportation in Ciudad Juárez is the blood for our maquila industry but at the same time remains one of the principal challenges to improve the air quality in the basin,” Vazquez said.
The TCEQ operates continuous ambient monitoring sites in various metropolitan areas throughout the state that measure both air and water pollutants known as a Continuous Air Monitoring Station (CAMS). By introducing the use of low-cost air sensors, the impact of this study could be transformational in addressing community exposure to traffic-related air pollution due to high startup and operating costs of CAMS.
Cities in the United States and Mexico face major challenges to maintain and enhance an ambient air monitoring network. While a single station can cost $250,000 to install, low-cost air sensors range from $100 to $2,500.
Low-cost sensors are also able to cover a wider spatial range and deploy for specific monitoring needs in the case of natural disasters, specific case studies or air emissions events. Governments and research organizations can use low-cost sensors to engage the public in “citizen science,” providing educational opportunities and promotion of air quality awareness.
“Our hope is that this study will foster a binational technical exchange between government agencies and research institutions in the region,” Li said. “The coronavirus pandemic may change people’s behavior temporarily, but our goal to improve air quality and public health in our community remains the same.”