Wayne County Launches First Phase of Air Monitoring Network

Wayne County has launched a new network of air quality monitors that it hopes will provide a more detailed picture of the county’s pollution hot spots.

About 100 fixed air quality monitors are now operational, county officials announced Wednesday. They measure pollutants such as particles, ozone and nitrogen dioxide in real time.

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, director of the Wayne County Department of Health, Human Services and Veterans Affairs, called it an “exciting” development. He said it would give the county the concrete evidence it needs to make important policy decisions.

“As a county, we will then have the opportunity to use this data to hold the biggest polluters in our community accountable. And for me, that’s a really big deal,” El-Sayed said.

El-Sayed said the observers were placed throughout the county with the help of local residents. “We wanted to make sure we were focusing on the spaces most impacted by poor air quality and air quality-related illnesses,” he said.

The project is a joint effort with Detroit-based startup JustAir Solutions. The company says it condenses and streamlines highly localized air monitoring data and makes it accessible to residents through an app. This platform also allows residents to subscribe to air quality alerts that will notify them when pollution levels become dangerously high. County leaders hope it will help people with health problems exacerbated by pollution, like asthma.

JustAir co-founder and CEO Darren Riley said it’s all about data accessibility in the service of public health. “Our goal is to ensure we have a high-quality product that communities understand,” he said. “I want to build for the layman, for the person who maybe hasn’t heard of the AQI (Air Quality Index).”

Sarah Cwiek


Michigan Public

Darren Riley, co-founder and CEO of JustAir.

County officials hope the network will eventually give them a more detailed and accurate picture of pollution hot spots in Wayne County, which has long suffered from poor air quality, particularly in parts of Detroit and its downstream communities. Ozone and particle pollution have improved in recent years, but remain a persistent problem in some communities. Of the 10 Michigan ZIP codes considered the most polluted in the state, three are in Detroit. This city also has a significantly higher asthma burden than state and national averages, with a disparity that has only worsened in recent years.

This is only the first phase of the project. The second is to provide clip-on mobile air monitors to 500 vulnerable residents, including children with asthma. The idea is to get an idea of ​​the exact conditions that trigger asthma attacks or other respiratory problems triggered or exacerbated by air pollution. El-Sayed said these will be rolled out later this summer, by which time county officials expect to have their first usable data sets from the fixed monitors.

JustAir’s Darren Riley said the overall goal “sounds crazy,” but he’s serious: If this project is truly successful, the company should no longer need to exist.

“We only exist because there is a problem,” he said. “And I hope that over time we will alleviate this problem.” So we don’t have to worry about whether we can go outside and breathe the air freely, or check our phones to see if the air is bad or not.

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