live / 2019

Community Air Quality Monitoring

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Grants Challenge by Safecast (Momoko Ito Foundation)

Following on our previous air quality monitoring of Los Angeles, we are working to install next generation air sensors at public library branches throughout the city. In addition to the sensors and the real time data they will provide to communities, we are developing curriculum and workshops for neighborhoods and communities to better understand their environment.


What does your organization do?

Volunteer centered open environmental monitoring. More freely available open data is better for everyone. Our work is aimed at putting data & collection in the hands of people.

Please list the organizations collaborating on this proposal.

  • Los Angeles Public Library
  • Los Angeles Makerspace / Two Bit Circus

Briefly tell us a story that demonstrates how your organization turns inspiration into impact.

We launched Safecast immediately after the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami which struck Japan and the subsequent meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Initially a reaction to the lack of data available, we quickly began monitoring, collecting, and openly sharing information on environmental radiation, growing quickly in size, scope, and geographical reach. After the publication of our data evacuation areas in Japan were changed and countless families used the data to decide if they should relocate or not.

Today our radiation data set has reached well over 100 million measurements and is the largest ever of its kind. Safecast data is known to be of excellent quality due to its being unbiased and transparently collected by individual volunteers. Safecast radiation data has been used by individuals to make decisions around their own safety and potential radiation exposure, research scientists, governments, and even artists. In 2018 Popular Mechanics declared that “Safecast has revolutionized citizen science.”

Branching our from radiation, in 2017 we deployed our first air quality monitors in and around Los Angeles and have collected and published approximately 1.1 million discrete and verifiable measurements.

Most importantly, Safecast has enabled people to easily monitor their own homes and environments, and to free themselves of dependence on government and other institutions for this kind of essential information. We are happy to be playing a major continuing role in the emergence of technically competent citizen efforts worldwide.

Which of the live metrics will your submission impact?​

  • Exposure to air toxins
  • Prevalence of adverse childhood experiences
  • Resilient communities

In which areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?

  • County of Los Angeles
  • City of Los Angeles

How will your project make LA the best place to live?

Accessible, reliable environmental data is vital for the health and safety of all people. Unfortunately, air quality data is limited: current public measurements are too generalized to give accurate information as sensors aren’t located where people live but at government facilities. Air quality data is normally not transparent enough for people to make informed personal health decisions. This proposal to expands our existing open source air quality data set through a network of connected environmental monitoring sensors based at each of the 73 branches of the LA Public Library with the following objectives:

  • Promote neighborhood science that empowers individuals and communities in their personal health decision making

  • Further develop a comprehensive data set showing trends in LA air quality by neighborhood

  • Document the effect open source environmental data collection and environmental data use has on individuals’ and communities’ abilities to access public services, interact with local governments, and positively affect an individual’s personal choices to address climate change

LAPL branches are trusted community hubs serving more than 4 million Angelenos last year. LAPL’s goal is to serve all neighborhoods equally, however, poorer neighborhoods make use of library services to a much greater degree than affluent ones. LAPL reports that 32% of library patrons do not have connectivity outside of the library. 60% of the people using library-based STEAM programs serve are low income, 53% are Latinx, and 12% African American.

Watts, a predominantly Latinx neighborhood with a significant African American population, has two library branches serving two zip codes. The Mark Twain Branch is adjacent to the 110 freeway and the Alma Reaves Woods Branch is located near a park. By increasing air quality monitoring in these two locations, Watts residents will have real-time particulate matter readings at these two sites. With greater granularity we can see changing PM patterns and communicate findings immediately and directly. Safecast’s 24 hour and 30 day mapped visualizations allow residents to see how markedly air quality changes from one location to another and what emerging trends are occurring.

Our partnership with LAPL means we can bring additional sensors to communities where people may not otherwise be able to afford the devices or do not have internet connections to access and use the Safecast air quality data set. Safecast will publicize real-time measurements to all library patrons and will provide data and environmental literacy modules supporting LAPL’s technology programs. These two activities will integrate the data into resident’s everyday lives.

Since 2016 we’ve collected ~1.1 million measurements in LA County from 20 stationary devices. We have much yet to do in making LA the best place to LIVE. Thank you!

In what stage of innovation is this project?

Expand existing program (expanding and continuing ongoing successful projects)

Please explain how you will define and measure success for your project.

We push for open source standards and greater data transparency that enables communities to produce personally relevant environmental data. With 20 sensors Safecast has collected more than 1.1 million air quality measurements in Los Angeles in under 3 years. Success as part of LA2050 means improved access to neighborhood-level air quality readings. We’d like to reach 5 million air quality measurements in the first year - but more importantly success will be measured in how many people gained access to and use their data.