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Manchester installs monitors to track air quality disparities

Gaby Lozada

A new pilot program in Manchester aims to study whether the air in some neighborhoods is healthier than others, with the goal of reducing racial and economic disparities.

The Queen City Air Quality Monitoring Program is a partnership between the NAACP of Greater Manchester, the Manchester Health Department, and the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services. The Nature Conservancy provided a grant to the NAACP that made the project viable.

The program aims to raise awareness of the disproportionate differences in air quality between low-income and wealthy neighborhoods and will help ensure Manchester is meeting federal air quality standards written in theClean Air Act.

The program is still getting started. Eventually, 12 PurpleAir hyper-local quality monitors, placed in different locationsacross the city, will generate new data points every 10 minutes. The 12 monitors cost a total of about $3,500. On their website, the NAACP of Greater Manchester says they are an “effective, but relatively inexpensive” way to monitor particulate matter in the air – materials that can penetrate deep in the lungs.

James McKim, president of the NAACP of Greater Manchester, said center-city neighborhoods — which are home to more people of color and low-income residents — have far fewer trees and green space compared to other parts of the city, like the North End, where residents are whiter and wealthier. He said the alliance behind the air monitoring project is working with the Manchester Planning Department on potential solutions, like planting more trees or blocking streets to make green spaces.

The groups working on the pilot program used environmental justice information — such as data on economic stability, education, and health access — to decide where to install the monitors. The information about the neighborhoods chosen to be monitored is available on the Manchester NAACP website.

McKim said this program could help to eliminate racial and economic disparities in air quality, which can contribute to higher rates of asthma, lung disease, and other ailments.

“Having poor air quality can also contribute to having poor mental health, particularly in youth,” he said.

It could take up to a year to get the final results. To ensure more people can access the air quality information, the Greater Manchester NAACP will provide data translation to Spanish. McKim says they are still considering other languages to include of the more than 76 spoken in Manchester.

“It is critical to get communities of all backgrounds involved in demanding better air quality in our cities,” he said.

The results will be shared on the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services Citizen Air Monitoring Program website. You can also view a map of PurpleAir monitors here

Correction: An earlier version of this story mistated the total cost of the air monitors. The 12 monitors will cost $3,500 all together, not $3,500 each.

Gabriela Lozada is a Report for America corps member. Her focus is on Latinx community with original reporting done in Spanish for ¿Qué hay de Nuevo NH?.