Clean Air for All

Sophie Watterson

By Sophie Watterson

Communities across Missouri are impacted by air pollution: whether poor air quality is driving up asthma rates or the odors from a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) are driving down property values. We know the importance of clean air, and yet we have shockingly little information about what we’re breathing. There are 63 active air quality monitoring sites in Missouri and at least one-fifth of these monitors are in Kansas City or St. Louis, leaving most of our state without air quality data. In an effort to close this gap, the Missouri Coalition for the Environment (MCE) is excited to launch a community science-based air quality monitoring project this spring. MCE will be partnering with community groups and individuals to install low-cost air quality sensors for ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, and particulate matter (PM) emissions in rural Missouri.

For some of us, air pollution brings to mind images of tailpipe exhaust, fossil fuel power plants, or urban smog, but industrial agriculture is also a major source of harmful air emissions. Ammonia and hydrogen sulfide are highly-odorous respiratory irritants that commonly come from commercial fertilizers (ammonia) and decomposing animal waste (both). Based on a North Carolina study, average ammonia concentrations in areas downwind of hog farms are up to 3 times higher than other areas within the same watershed. Particulate matter (PM) emissions are fine particles suspended in air. In primarily-agricultural areas, PM can come from tillage dust, field burns, fuel combustion, animal feed, dander, feathers and waste. When PM is inhaled, it can cause serious health problems. In fact, tens of thousands of deaths in the U.S. each year are attributed to agricultural PM.

Collecting reliable, public air quality data, will help us start to understand local levels of these emissions in parts of rural Missouri, and their impacts on community health and the environment. MCE is working in parallel with like-minded organizations to increase public air quality data across the state. In our long-term vision, all Missourians have access to reliable local air quality data, information about how local air quality impacts their health, and can use this information to advocate for public health and environmental protections.

If you want to learn more about MCE’s air quality monitoring efforts and options for low-cost air quality monitoring in your community, contact MCE’s Policy Coordinator Sophie Watterson at swatterson@moenvironment.org or at (314)-727-0600 ext. 113.