How the Sac Metro Air District Enhanced Its Air Monitoring Network with Clarity to Face Increasing Wildfire Smoke Threats

This case study outlines the immediate and long-term needs and the challenges posed by wildfires and air pollution in Sacramento, California.

Sacramento, California

Node-S air sensors



Janice Lam Snyder

Janice Lam Snyder

Representative, Sac Metro Air District
"A program is only half the program when you have the data. The other half is what information the community will have, so that they know what actions to take to protect themselves, to protect their family, their employees, and their community."
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Air quality is a significant concern for communities, especially during wildfire seasons. Janice Lam Snyder, a representative of the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District, shared her experiences in partnering with Clarity Movement to create an effective air monitoring system to reduce public exposure to air pollution events. This case study will outline the establishment of a multifaceted air quality monitoring system that addresses both immediate and long-term needs and the challenges posed by wildfires and air pollution in Sacramento, California.

Situation: Understanding the growing air quality concerns in Sacramento

The Sac Metro Air District is responsible for air quality monitoring, stationary source development of rules, permitting, enforcement, developing programs to incentivize cleaner technology and creating air quality awareness and outreach in the community. However, in recent years, the frequency of wildfires has increased, and the Sac Metro Air District needed a way to provide localized air quality in real-time to increase public awareness of the effects of wildfires on air quality.

Sacramento has faced air quality issues in the past, especially after intensifying wildfire incidents in California.
A lot of the public and the community are asking questions... and people really want to know what is the air quality in my neighborhood? What is it in my community? What is it in my child's school? What is the air quality for my employees, our outdoor workers' exposure?"

— Janice Lam Snyder, Sac Metro Air District

The area of concern was primarily in Sacramento, and the goal was to create a system that provided accurate and relevant information for those affected by air pollution events. Additionally, the Sac Metro Air District had to consider the needs of the community, such as air quality monitoring in schools, businesses, and neighborhoods.

Challenge: Addressing the challenges of wildfire smoke and air pollution

The Sac Metro Air District faced several challenges in addressing the growing needs of their community concerning air quality during and after wildfire events, including:

1. Expanding spatial coverage: With only seven monitoring stations in the county of Sacramento, there was a significant gap in air quality data coverage. Residents wanted to know the air quality in their neighborhoods, at their children's schools, and at their workplaces. Closing this gap required deploying additional monitoring equipment throughout the region to provide a more detailed, localized picture of air quality.

2. Communicating real-time information: The community needed access to real-time air quality data during wildfire events to make informed decisions about protecting themselves and their families. This challenge called for a monitoring network that was capable of providing time-sensitive, accurate, and easy-to-understand information to the public.

3. Addressing post-event needs: Once a wildfire event had subsided, the Sac Metro Air District is tasked with compiling convincing evidence of the smoke impact, supporting exceptional event requests, and assessing the long-term effects of wildfires on attaining their health standards. This required gathering data on a wide array of pollutants and environmental factors, as well as coordinating with various stakeholders, including health experts and other regulatory agencies.

4. Meeting the demands for toxic impact information: The conversation around wildfire smoke has evolved from focusing solely on PM2.5 levels to addressing the broader toxic impacts. This necessitated more extensive monitoring for a wider range of pollutants and additional research to fully understand the health implications of wildfire smoke.

Above: The proposed community sites for Clarity Node-S air quality monitoring equipment.

Solution: Implementing Sensing-as-a-Service air quality monitoring with Clarity

Above: 21 Clarity Node-S sensors were deployed to supplement Sac Metro Air District’s monitoring

Overcoming these challenges required the Sac Metro Air District to develop and implement a multifaceted, proactive approach that combined regulatory-grade monitoring systems, sensors, satellite data, and extensive community engagement. The goal was to create an air monitoring network that would meet both immediate and post-event needs for addressing the impacts of wildfires on air quality and public health.

First, as a response to air quality concerns from residents from wildfire smoke, the City of Rancho Cordova initiated a collaboration with the Sac Metro Air District to deploy portable sensors within the city.

Second, the Sac Metro Air District deployed 21 Clarity Node-S sensors through the Community Air Protection program to collect vital data in priority areas. The Clarity sensors also provided real-time, localized air quality data to enable residents and businesses to make informed decisions during wildfires and other pollution events. This expanded network complemented the District’s existing regulatory-grade monitoring stations. This was followed by a phase of enhanced toxics measurements at six selected locations. The comprehensive analysis culminated in the deployment of a portable laboratory, providing an in-depth examination of the emission sources impacting community air quality.

Most recently the City of Sacramento through their Climate Implementation Work Plan provided one-time funding to Sac Metro Air District to deploy 200 portable air sensors throughout the city, paying special attention to high-need areas. This expanded network provided residents and businesses with localized, real-time air quality data, complementing the existing regulatory-grade monitoring stations and empowering communities to make well-informed decisions during wildfires and other air pollution events.

Lastly, Janice’s team continues to concentrate on pairing air quality data with actionable guidance for the community. They created communication tools, including action charts and guidelines that helped residents, schools, and businesses comprehend how to safeguard themselves during wildfire smoke events. These materials were broadly disseminated and made available through the air district's website, ensuring accessibility.

Above: Sac Metro Air District produced resources to educate local communities on what to do during a wildfire smoke air pollution event.

By implementing these solutions, Sac Metro Air District effectively addressed the demands for localized, real-time air quality information and post-event analysis related to wildfires and air pollution events.

What I have realized is that not any one method really covers all of the objectives that we want, so we really have to use different types of tools to piece together everything that we need to make a really robust air monitoring network."

— Janice Lam Snyder, Sac Metro Air District

Outcome: Enhancing public health and awareness through comprehensive air pollution measurement

The Sac Metro Air District’s comprehensive approach to air monitoring significantly improved the availability of real-time, localized data for Sacramento residents during wildfire events, empowering them to make informed decisions about their health and safety. In addition, the agency's efforts to develop and distribute actionable information to the community enabled residents, businesses, and schools to better understand and manage their exposure to wildfire smoke and other air pollution events.

Above: Clarity Node-S devices and larger regulatory monitors have enabled a comprehensive monitoring approach for Sacramento

Above: The community is able to view air quality live through Clarity's Openmap

The expanded air monitoring network, combined with community engagement efforts, led to a more knowledgeable and informed public. Importantly, it strengthened Sac Metro Air District’s ability to meet post-event demands such as supporting exceptional event requests and analyzing the impacts of wildfires on regional health standards.

By utilizing a variety of tools and platforms, the Sac Metro Air District has built a robust air monitoring network that serves the community's immediate and long-term needs, highlighting the importance of proactive air quality management in addressing the complex challenges posed by increasing wildfire events.

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