Final Thoughts

Blog #6

Hey everyone! It’s good to be back, and I can’t believe that the summer is almost over. I’ve really enjoyed working on my independent research project, but now that it’s coming to an end, I feel like I have more questions than answers. I want to thank everyone who helped me with my project, especially Ms. Caruso, Ms. Bessias, Ms. Wells, and Mr. Beck. I would still be trying to install the air monitors if it wasn’t for all your help! I also want to thank the Jack Linger Explorer Grant. Without the grant, I would never even have air monitors to install!

To wrap up my project, I thought it would be a good idea to sum up what I learned during my project. Some of it was frustrating, some was surprising, and some was exciting.

#1 Technology does not always work.

I have a love/hate relationship with technology. Without it, I would not have been able to measure PM2.5. It’s so small you can’t see it. However, it’s not like you can just plug the air monitors in and everything works seamlessly. I had a dedicated power source for the two air monitors installed at the Lower School, but air monitor #2 stopped working, and air monitor #1 failed to collect data during certain time periods. The control air monitors were a little more complicated. I needed to use a solar panel and battery as a source of power, but the weather conditions did not always cooperate. On windy days, the solar panel would get blown over; on cloudy days, there is not enough sun to power the battery. Despite these technical difficulties, I was able to collect a lot of data.

#2 More data does not always mean more answers.

With four air monitors collecting data every two minutes for two months, I collected a lot of data: about 175,000 data points. It’s not easy to figure out how to look at this data in a meaningful way. With help from my advisors, I learned how to convert the data in MS Excel and plot the data. These scatter plots, which can be seen in my earlier blogs, were a good way to show the trends of PM2.5 concentrations measured at the Lower School and control locations. Unfortunately, the data did not show significant trends. I was surprised to learn that car idling during drop off and pickup from DA Summer Camp did not appear to significantly impact air quality at the Lower School. Air quality at the Lower School, however, did vary from day to day and even during each day. 

#3 More questions means more research.

Although it was disappointing that the data did not show that car idling during DA Summer Camp significantly impacted air quality at the Lower School, the good news is that on most days the air quality was “good” and rarely got worse than “moderate.” It also raised more questions:

  • Will more students and more cars during the school year impact air quality at the Lower School? 
  • Does ground maintenance impact air quality at the Lower School?
  • Is air quality at the Lower School worse during the summer than other seasons?

I look forward to continuing my research, possibly as an independent research project. Please check back once the school year starts, and I’ll let you know if I am able to answer these questions! Thanks for joining me on this research journey!

Evaluating Data Part Three

Hey everyone! It’s good to be back. I’ve learned again that things don’t always work the way they are supposed to work, and more data does not always mean more answers. PurpleAir Sensor #2 installed at the Lower School stopped working. I’ll need to figure that out. I also wanted to share with you some more of my data. I have provided four more charts below:

Based on the data, I observed the following:

  • The data again does not show that drop off and pickup from DA Summer Camp is significantly affecting air quality. The PM2.5 concentrations are very similar for these four days, and the control concentrations are slightly higher than the Lower School on all four days.
  • There are isolated, short time periods when the PM2.5 concentrations increase. I wonder if this is a result of ground maintenance (cutting grass) or are the air monitors malfunctioning?
  • The Lower School #1 air monitor stopped working on July 26. I’m not sure why and will need to take a look at this.
  • The PM2.5 concentrations were much higher on August 4. Was this a “bad” air quality day for Durham?

I’ll check back in soon with my final thoughts on the project.

Evaluating Data Part Two

Hey everyone! It’s good to be back. I’ve continued to work on my independent research project and have been learning a lot, including things that don’t always work the way they are supposed to work. Despite some technical difficulties – the solar panel being blown over during a strong thunderstorm – I’ve continued to collect a lot of data.

Before getting to some of the questions that I posed last week, I wanted to share with you some more of my data. I have provided three more charts below:

Based on the data, PM2.5 concentrations were higher at the control location for two of the three days. There also does not appear to be a peak of PM2.5 concentrations during drop off and pick up from DA Summer Camp. This might be explained by several factors. First, there are less campers than students that attend the Lower School. I have reached out to Katie Kantz, Director of DA Summer, and asked the total number of campers for each week of DA Summer Camp. Second, unlike the school year, which has one drop off and pickup location at the Lower School, there are multiple pick up and drop off points for DA Summer Camp (Lower School Entrance, Brumley, Upper School Gym) at multiple times (morning, afternoon, and evening). Third, because there are less cars as a result of less campers and multiple locations and times, less cars are likely idling at the Lower School entrance.

What concentrations of PM2.5 are considered unhealthy?

Based on the six days that I have analyzed and plotted, PM2.5 concentrations generally range from 4 ug/m3 to 25 ug/m3. Based on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s breakpoint and air quality index, these PM2.5 concentrations are considered good (0-15.4 ug/m3) and a moderate level of health concern (15.5-40.4 ug/m3).

Why do some days have higher PM2.5 concentrations than other days?

In addition to local concerns – such as car idling or maintenance equipment – PM2.5 values can be affected by meteorological conditions. For example, PM2.5 concentrations can be elevated on days with little or no wind.

Thanks for checking in! I’ll be back next week to let you know what else I found out about DA Summer Camp and air quality at the Lower School.

Evaluating Data

Hey everyone! I wanted to give you an update on my independent research project. Despite some issues with the solar panel and battery for the control air sensors (which I now have figured out thanks to Mr. Beck, DA Network Manager), the PurpleAir sensors have been busy collecting data. I have downloaded a lot of data from the air sensors and initially struggled with what to do with all of it. After some helpful tips from Ms. Wells, the Research Operations Manager at UNC-CEMALB, I have been able to format the data and generate some helpful charts.

To test whether pickup and drop off for DA Summer Camp are affecting air quality, I started my preliminary analysis by selecting three days: June 24, June 30, and July 11. DA Summer Camp was in session for each of these days. First, I needed to convert the time recorded by the sensors from Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) to Eastern Daylight Savings time. This was more complicated than I thought and had to be done for thousands of data points. Once I converted the time, I deleted the unnecessary data and focused on PM2.5 concentrations (ug/m3). I then plotted the data using an “XY scatter plot with lines.” Here are the three charts:

Based on the data, PM2.5 concentrations were higher at the Lower School entrance for two of the three days. Unlike school, which has one drop off in the morning and one pick up in the afternoon, drop off and pick up for DA Summer Camps occurs throughout the day in multiple locations. There are also less cars idling and less traffic during DA Summer Camp compared to school. Because of these factors, it might be more difficult to show increases in PM2.5 concentrations during DA Summer Camp.

The PM2.5 concentrations were also much higher on June 30 than on June 24 and July 11. On June 24 and July 11, the PM2.5 concentrations ranged from approximately 4 to 10 ug/m3. While on June 30, the PM2.5 concentrations ranged from approximately 14 to 25 ug/m3.

Over the next few weeks, I plan to analyze additional days to further evaluate whether car idling associated with DA Summer Camp is affecting air quality. I also plan to find out more information about drop off and pick up at DA Summer Camp and investigate what concentrations of PM2.5 are considered unhealthy and why some days have higher PM2.5 concentrations than other days.

Thanks for checking in!

Installing the Air Sensors

Hey everyone, thanks for checking in! I wanted to let you know that over the past couple of weeks we installed the air sensors. We have placed one of our sensors near the Lower School entrance to collect data from the cars during pick up and drop off at DA Summer Camp and our other sensor near the DA baseball field paired with the solar panel and battery. We are also waiting for two more of our PurpleAir sensors to arrive and be installed next week.

Here are a couple of photos of our PurpleAir sensors (the one near the Lower School entrance is on the top and the control is on the bottom):

Ms. Caruso and I have been collecting a lot of data over the past couple of weeks. Each of the sensors has its own SD card, which we can use to collect the data by inserting the card into a card reader, which allows us to see all of the data on our computer. We have a meeting scheduled next week to discuss how we can organize the data so that we can better understand the preliminary results of our study. I look forward to reporting back to you with these results!

Lastly, I want to thank Ms. Caruso, Ms. Bessias, Mr. Edwards, Ms. Wells, Mr. Beck, and Mr. Rosser for all the help I have received so far!

Vehicle Idling Reduction

Hi everyone! Thanks for reading my blog! Before I jump into my independent research project, I thought it would be helpful to go over some basic questions so everyone understands the key terms and concepts that I will be talking about. If you have any other questions, please feel free to post them, and I will do my best to answer them.

What is idling?

Idling is leaving a vehicle’s engine running while the vehicle is parked or stopped. Sometimes, drivers idle in traffic. In other situations, drivers have a choice whether to turn their engine off or let the engine run.

Source: Grist

Is idling bad?

Idling an engine is harmful to the health and environment. Vehicle emissions are one of the primary sources of air pollution. Pollutants released from a vehicle exhaust pipe include nitrogen oxides (NOx), carbon monoxide (CO), particulate matter (PM) emissions (primarily fine particle matter designated as PM2.5), and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Each of the pollutants cause human health and environmental effects, including asthma and other respiratory problems, global climate change, and regional haze. Children are especially susceptible to poor air quality because they breathe more air per pound of body weight than adults.

Not only is idling bad for health and the environment, it uses more fuel than just turning your engine off. According to the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, idling for 10 seconds uses more fuel than turning off the engine and restarting the vehicle. By turning off your engine while parked or stopped, you will save money.

Why study car idling at Durham Academy?

During drop off and pick up, particularly at the Lower School, there are a lot of cars. As parents wait in the car line, many parents do not turn their engines off and allow their vehicles to idle. Before making any recommendations to change the way that parents drop off and pick up their children, Durham Academy should understand whether vehicle idling is contributing to poor air quality.

How to measure the effects of car idling?

PurpleAir sensors will be purchased and installed at the Lower School and in a control location to collect real-time air quality data. PurpleAir sensors use laser particle counters to count the number of particles by particle sizes 0.3, 0.5, 1, 2.5, 5, and 10 micrometers (μm), and use the count data to calculate mass concentrations of PM1.0, PM2.5, and PM10 in micrometers per cubic meter (μg/m3).  Although PurpleAir sensors do not measure gaseous emissions, such as NOx, CO, VOCs, sensors that measure these emissions are expensive and not as accurate. For the relative comparisons needed for this study, monitoring PM emissions will provide sufficient data.

What is PM2.5?

PM2.5 consists of solid particles and liquid droplets found in the air and is made up of hundreds of different chemicals. PM2.5 is so small that it can be inhaled into the lungs and the bloodstream.

Source: Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection

Studies have linked breathing PM2.5 to adverse health effects, including premature death in people with heart or lung disease, nonfatal heart attacks, aggravated asthma, decreased lung function, and coughing or difficulty breathing. People with heart or lung diseases, children, and older adults are the most likely to be affected by PM2.5.