Air Watch Bay Area includes data from region’s refinery communities
After more than a year of work, an air quality reporting website developed in collaboration with community organizations in the Bay Area’s refinery cities— including the Good Neighbor Steering Committee in Benicia— is ready for viewing.
AirWatchBayArea.org was developed by the Fair Tech Collective at Drexel University in collaboration with members of the Good Neighbor Steering Committee (GNSC), Crockett-Rodeo United to Defend the Environment (CRUDE), the Rodeo Citizens Association, LACEEN and the Community Science Institute. The goal is to allow residents of the Bay Area refinery communities to report air pollution as well as symptoms they may be experiencing, view pollution reports in context along with chemical levels and wind direction, see the history of chemical levels in an area as measured by fence line and community monitoring, submit reports to regulatory authorities at the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) as well as create an independent community database of incidents, connect with other community organizations and more.
GSNC members Constance Beutel and Kathy Kerridge were involved in the development of the website, and Beutel said that Gwen Ottinger of the Fair Tech Collective took the lead in setting it up.
“She received a National Science Foundation grant to look into how to take air monitoring data and make it meaningful for those who live in the community,” she said.
Beutel said that refineries do report data but felt that said reports were provided discretely and individually. The main objective of Air Watch Bay Area was to provide data from all the Bay Area refineries.
“Now we get to see the big picture of what’s happening with the refineries,” she said. “We do know the wind blows, and since we’re in Benicia with the westerlies blowing our way, we get effects from refineries in Rodeo, Richmond, etc. People in Davis and Fairfield get the results from Martinez and Benicia.”
The data reported on Air Watch Bay Area comes largely from fenceline.org as well as BAAQMD monitors and cheaper monitors set up by community members, with archived data going back to May 2015. Air quality timelines and reports are available for Benicia, Richmond and the Crockett-Rodeo region. Martinez is currently not included because neither the Shell nor Tesoro Golden Eagle refineries have fenceline monitoring programs set up, but the city will be added to the site once monitors are established. The site also has a map of refinery regions with icons for nearby schools and day cares and also has functions for users to submit reports of odors, flaring, residue and health systems and even enables viewers to see other recent user-submitted reports. Reporters can even rate the severity of the odors and upload photos.
Beutel said that Benicia currently has a tiny monitor called Awair, which reports volatile emissions and dust particulates. The city does not have fenceline monitoring yet, but Beutel said that a settlement with the Valero Benicia Refinery in 2008 did result in a trailer with $250,000 worth of air monitoring equipment, but it has not seen use in nearly a decade.
“Because of complications, the trailer and monitoring equipment has sat idle,” she said.
Instead, the GNSC has a $200 device at Ruszel Woodworks, which is located about 5 minutes away from the Valero refinery. A community meeting will be held at Ruszel Woodworks in September, where people can see the device in person.
“It’s a perfect venue so people can see our limitations in what we’re monitoring, and hopefully we can agitate to get that trailer released into the public and wait for the mandated fenceline monitoring that is coming down the line,” Beutel said.
Since work on the website began, Beutel said the groups have met at least once every other week. They have been working weekly to fine-tune a downloadable Air Watch Bay Area application for Apple and Android products. Beutel said changes on both the site and the app will continue to be made as they see fit.
“As we launch it to the public, if there are improvements to be made we can see that into the process and do the upgrades,” she said.
One thing the groups are hoping to add to the site in the future is a linkage of health responses to emissions.
“Our North Bay representative of the whole project, Cheryl Holzmeyer, has been talking to somebody to link Fitbit data to emission data and see if those who volunteer to register their Fitbit with the project can see if there’s a spike in respiratory responses, etc.” she said.
Beutel said there are two main goals of the project. One is to make it easier for people to report strange smells, flaring or physical incidences like itchy eyes and difficulty breathing. The other is to provide real-time air quality data to the community and inspire action.
“Although we’re limited in Benicia, we do have some air monitoring,” she said. “They can take a look at that and look at it over history. If they want to do something, they want to hold to the City Council or regulators or Air District people to take some action and show them some data, they can pull user reports.”
The GNSC will have a table set up at the Benicia Certified Farmers Market on Aug. 24 and 31 to demonstrate the website. A further presentation will be held at the Sept. 5 City Council meeting, and the community meeting at Russell Woodworks will be held at 7 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 6 at 2980 Bayshore Road. The site can be viewed at airwatchbayarea.org, and the app can be downloaded from the Apple Store and Google Play.