Youth Pollution Monitoring Activities across the Southland

In communities around the Southland this summer and past spring, students have been learning about air pollution and doing their own hands-on monitoring. These areas included Alhambra, Hacienda Heights, Boyle Heights, Lennox, Inglewood, and more. Outreach Program coordinator Carla Truax visited several high schools and community organizations to give a presentation on “Air Pollution 101,” USC’s latest scientific research findings, and demonstrate air monitoring equipment for the students. The students then came up with creative monitoring projects of their own.

At Mark Keppel High School in Alhambra, the students were part of a youth team from a group called Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAAJ). After monitoring around their school, which is located adjacent to the I-10 Freeway, the students then presented their research at a “Family Empowerment Festival” organized by AAAJ at Cal State Los Angeles in May.

Air pollution is measured on a overpass of the 10 freeway near Mark Keppel High School.

Last year, another group of students from Mark Keppel High School did a monitoring project with USC, interviewed experts, and created this video:

At Glen A. Wilson High School in Hacienda Heights, students in the Advanced Environmental Studies class learned about the health risks of exposure to air pollution, and how to assess the numbers of ultrafine particles near their school using monitoring devices.  They also learned about the studies conducted by the environmental health sciences centers based at USC about the health effects of living or going to school near a busy freeway. Wilson High is located just a few feet from the 60 Freeway. These high school visits were organized by partner organization Asian and Pacific Islander Obesity Prevention Alliance.

Legacy L.A. is a non-profit organization focused on youth and leadership development which offers academic support to students in Boyle Heights (on the East side of LA), in particular to students who live at Ramona Gardens. After a training session by USC on the health effects of air pollution, the youth talked about some critical issues they are working on: access to healthy food, environmental justice, and safe walkable streets in their community. The group also had questions about creating a buffer zone to help mitigate the effects of traffic emissions from the freeway that borders their housing development and a newly constructed playground. Using what they had learned, the youth developed an action plan for addressing the pollution issues in their community and presented it at a town hall meeting for key policy and decision makers in June. The meeting was covered by Boyle Heights Beat.

Environmental Justice Summer Institute (EJSI) is a program focused on educating, engaging, and empowering youth to be environmental health leaders in their neighborhoods of Inglewood, Hawthorne, and Lennox. The youth developed hands-on experience with two days of ultrafine particle pollution and noise monitoring at 14 locations around their neighborhoods. The students chose locations for monitoring and mapped them before setting out for their field work. The selected locations included places they live, learn, and hang out, such as parks, schools, and homes.  These areas are in the flyover path for jets landing at LAX airport.

Students participating in the EJSI wrote about their monitoring experiences:

“As we spent two sessions going around our community measuring pollution, the thought that kept stirring in my mind was that there is not much being done to keep our homes safe. I only wonder how our community will be if we do not take action, so I think people should be more aware of the dangers around them.” –Vanessa Sanchez

Prior to measuring pollution, students mapped healthy and unhealthy spaces in their communities to identify where they wanted to take pollution measurements.

A sound level meter is used to measure the number of decibels from the airplane.

“While doing the air and noise pollution, I was surprised a few times by the measurement and the locations. I never thought our communities were that polluted by these moving engines. What surprised me more was the bus pollution measurement was quite low. But some locations were heavily polluted and can have a negative effect on people’s health.” –Khanh Nguyen

“My emotion about knowing the air pollution was “surprise!” because I didn’t know that our air was not as clean as it should be. For example the beach has 4,000 pt/cc [number of particles per cubic centimeter] of ultrafine particles on average. I asked myself why doesn’t the city enjoy that kind of healthy air? All the data gathered concerned me about the environment and it made me see that we have a problem.” –Abigail Diaz
[Note: the average levels of ultrafine particles in Lennox and Inglewood was 45,000 pt/cc.]

A P-Trak monitor is used to measure the ultrafine particles.

“My thoughts and emotions weren’t thrilled because I was expecting to get the result that we got because I know the community. The only one I was surprised was at the beach because it was really low. It was 2,000-6,000 (pt/cc).” –Eder Juarez

The Environmental Justice Summer Institute program is a partnership of USC Environmental Health, Asian and Pacific Islander Obesity Prevention Alliance (APIOPA), From Lot to Spot (FLTS), and Social Justice Learning Institute (SJLI). Learn more about the institute in this post.

The EJSI’s next project is creating a student-produced video, so stay tuned!

USC Environmental Health gratefully thanks the NIEHS, U.S. EPA, The Kresge Foundation and The
California Wellness Foundation for their combined support which has allowed the Centers’ participation in these efforts to educate youth about air pollution.