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Community-Engaged Use of Low-Cost Sensors to Assess the Spatial Distribution of PM2.5 Concentrations across Disadvantaged Communities: Results from a Pilot Study in Santa Ana, CA


PM2.5 is an air pollutant that is widely associated with adverse health effects, and which tends to be disproportionately located near low-income communities and communities of color. We applied a community-engaged research approach to assess the distribution of PM2.5 concentrations in the context of community concerns and urban features within and around the city of Santa Ana, CA. Approximately 183 h of one-minute average PM2.5 measurements, along with high-resolution geographic coordinate measurements, were collected by volunteer community participants using roughly two dozen low-cost AtmoTube Pro air pollution sensors paired with real-time GPS tracking devices. PM2.5 varied by region, time of day, and month. In general, concentrations were higher near the city's industrial corridor, which is an area of concern to local community members. While the freeway systems were shown to correlate with some degree of elevated air pollution, two of four sampling days demonstrated little to no visible association with freeway traffic. Concentrations tended to be higher within socioeconomically disadvantaged communities compared to other areas. This pilot study demonstrates the utility of using low-cost air pollution sensors for the application of community-engaged study designs that leverage community knowledge, enable high-density air monitoring, and facilitate greater health-related awareness, education, and empowerment among communities. The mobile air-monitoring approach used in this study, and its application to characterize the ambient air quality within a defined geographic region, is in contrast to other community-engaged studies, which employ fixed-site monitoring and/or focus on personal exposure. The findings from this study underscore the existence of environmental health inequities that persist in urban areas today, which can help to inform policy decisions related to health equity, future urban planning, and community access to resources.

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