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St. Louis environmentalists to check for air pollution in communities of color

Jay Turner and his lab will collect and analyze samples of volatile organic compounds from the absorbed pollution in some St. Louis neighborhoods

Jay Turner
A coalition of churches will work with environmentalists and Washington University engineers and students to collect data on air quality in St. Louis neighborhoods with high levels of pollution.

The Turner Group research lab at Washington University will place air quality monitoring systems and outdoor air samplers at more than 12 churches beginning next month. For nine months, the systems will measure ozone levels, carbon monoxide and other pollutants.

A 2019 report by the Interdisciplinary Environmental Clinic at the Washington University School of Law and the Environmental Justice Roundtable found that Black St. Louisans are at a greater environmental risk than white residents. The research suggests that most of St. Louis’ top pollutant sources are concentrated in neighborhoods of color.

“Our goal is to drive the momentum of this community with unified advocacy that will increase pressure on our target audiences — polluters, legislatures and enforcement agencies — to improve air quality standards and conditions,” said Beth Gutzler, lead environmental justice organizer at Metropolitan Congregations United.

The data at the churches will be transferred over a cellular network to a real-time database that community members will have access to.

The team also will collect samples of volatile organic compounds from the absorbed pollution. The research lab will analyze the samples to look for dozens of air toxics including benzene and toluene — hazardous air pollutants that people breathe in every day.

“Certainly, ozone is a big environmental justice issue here in St. Louis,” said Jay Turner, a Washington University engineering professor and lead researcher for the Turner Group. “Children of color have a much higher rate of asthma than the general population in St. Louis and so ozone is a risk factor for that.”

Read the full story on St. Louis Public Radio's website.

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