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Establishing an Air Quality Monitoring Network to Inform Local Strategies

Columbus, Ohio

Featured image for the project, Establishing an Air Quality Monitoring Network to Inform Local Strategies

Photo Credit: Catalyst Columbus/villaCREATIVE


Columbus, capitol of Ohio, is seated in Franklin County, the center of a 15-county region known as Central Ohio. Central Ohio is rapidly growing and is expected to become a region of 3 million by 2050.  This rapid rate of growth sets it apart from other major Ohio metropolitan regions.

Franklin County Public Health (FCPH) serves a portion of Franklin County that includes suburbs and jurisdictions surrounding the city of Columbus. MORPC, the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission, is Central Ohio’s regional council representing more than 70 members comprised of counties (including Franklin County), cities (including Columbus), villages, townships, and regional organizations. Franklin County alone, excluding the cities of Columbus and Worthington, has a population of 411,512 with 81.4% of the population identifying as white, 9.6% as black or African American, 4.5% as Hispanic or Latino, and 3.2% as two or more races. The median income for the county is $58,762. The county itself occupies diverse land-use space, including a large urban metropolis, a big ten college, and rural farmland.

Despite its relative level of affluence in Ohio, prosperity in Central Ohio isn’t universal. In 2015, a University of Toronto study ranked Columbus, Ohio second in the United States in economic segregation among metro areas with more than 1 million people, eclipsed only by Austin. The income and race disparity are also shown in the Franklin County “Rise Together: A Blueprint for reducing poverty in Franklin County” report and guidance compiled by the Franklin County Board of Commissioners. One goal in addressing racial disparities and health is to “improve overall environmental conditions in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty.” We are therefore proposing a project to install air quality monitors in different neighborhoods to better understand existing environmental disparities and to enable agencies to pinpoint where to develop targeted programs.

Air quality is currently addressed in the region through efforts by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and MORPC. Ohio EPA is the regulatory air quality authority for Central Ohio and focuses on ensuring that air quality in the region is meeting federal regulatory standards. This requires highly accurate monitoring. The high capital cost and staff maintenance effort involved in this work limits the number of monitors employed and does not allow for the ability to understand the variation in air pollution at higher spatial resolution.

MORPC communicates air quality forecasts, issues health alerts when pollution levels are unhealthy for sensitive groups of people and conducts educational air quality programming for the region. Due to the lack of data indicating neighborhood level variation in air pollution exposure, there is currently no emphasis on prioritizing outreach to communities that are more vulnerable to the effects of air pollution or that may be exposed to greater levels of air pollution. Understanding these issues on a neighborhood level presents an opportunity to better support local communities through targeted programming as well as seeking community grants to address environmental health issues.


Project Description

The scope of this project entails 1) engaging with community members through local forums to share information and gather input on project aims and desired outcomes, 2) strategic deployment of air quality sensors in the City of Columbus and throughout Franklin County, 3) evaluation and interpretation of air quality data across these locales (i.e. at the neighborhood-level), and 4) devising a communication strategy that empowers communities to directly benefit from this data (e.g. receiving community grants to address inequities in air quality).

MORPC currently has available 16 agile air quality particulate monitors. Five monitors were deployed in downtown Columbus to help track air quality during the pandemic stay-at-home orders and, as activity resumes, to understand the contribution of traffic to air pollution levels. The remaining sensors will be strategically placed to track daily and seasonal air quality trends.

The project team envisions near, mid, and long-term impacts from this project. In the near-term, the project team will prepare presentation materials and participate in outreach activities through local forums and governments, such as neighborhood area commissions and community health action teams. These interactions will increase community awareness of both the project and availability of real-time data. In the mid-term, MORPC and FCPH will share information regarding sensor locations and project goals on their respective websites. The long-term effort will focus on a final report that synthesizes the findings from these air quality sensors, including a visualization tool of air quality over time.

The goal of this work is to understand the variation of air quality within Franklin County and its surrounding areas so that public health and sustainability initiatives can be adapted to better serve the community while also empowering community members by providing real-time access to air quality data.



This project is expected to span 12 – 18 months

January 2021

  • Begin location selection for remaining sensors
  • Establish data handling protocols from active sensors

February 2021

  • Identify and coordinate with potential sensor hosts

May 2021

  • Establish communication strategy
  • Establish QA/QC protocols

January 2022

  • Overview of year 1 data

Starting May 2022

  • Project wrap-up and final report

Project Team

Community Leaders

Jennie McAdams Headshot

Jennie McAdams, MPH, SIT, has been with Franklin County Public Health (FCPH) in Ohio for 6 years, beginning as the Accreditation coordinator, and spent 2 years as the supervisor of Health Promotion and Community Engagement before moving to her current role as Sustainability Supervisor. She has co-chaired the Ohio Public Health Climate Resilience Coalition and spearheaded the white paper highlighting climate change in Ohio. She also serves on the National Association of City County Health Officials (NACCHO) and National Environmental Health Association’s Climate Change committees as well as NACCHOs Healthy Living and Prevention committee. She is the Sustainability Section Supervisor and leads internal and external sustainability efforts and believes strongly in community partnerships to accomplish great things! During the course of the Thriving Earth Exchange project, she will be the liaison for FCPH with MORPC and will assist in coordinating CHAT meetings and utilizing the data to drive public health policies and practices for the community.


Brooke White Headshot

Brooke White, PhD, serves as a Senior Air Quality and Sustainability Specialist for a 15-county region in Central Ohio with the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission.  Her portfolio includes project management, marketing and educational initiatives along with technical services.  Previously, she was a fellow in the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.   She holds a PhD in Earth Sciences from the University of Minnesota and B.S. in Physics and Astronomy from the University of Arizona.  As co-lead of the project, Brooke will oversee and support the siting and maintenance of the monitor network, implement the project communications strategy, and advise on data analysis activities.

Layla Abraham

Layla Abraham, MPH serves as the Environmental Health Educator for Franklin County Public Health (FCPH). Her work includes elevating sustainability and climate change initiatives throughout Franklin County and assisting FCPH’s expansion of environmental health education. Layla will be assisting with the project communications strategy, identifying educational opportunities, and utilizing the data to drive public health policies and practices for the community.


Community Scientist

Carl Malings is a NASA Postdoctoral Program fellow at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. He has done research into the calibration and validation of data acquired by low-cost air quality sensors, including the PurpleAir particulate matter mass sensor and the RAMP multi-pollutant monitor. He has also participated in deployment, management, and data analysis for low-cost air quality sensor networks, mainly in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His current work involves the integration of global atmospheric chemistry models, satellite data, and ground-based measurements to improve the estimation and forecasting of air quality in urban areas. He has a PhD in Civil and Environmental Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University, and a Bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering from the Cooper Union.


Community Science Fellow

Michelle Bailey is a Research Chemist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Her research focuses on development and implementation of optical diagnostic techniques for atmospheric trace-gas detection. While completing her doctoral degree at the George Washington University, she championed three field campaigns in Fairbanks, Alaska to investigate carbon feedbacks above thawing permafrost and worked with local government and education officials to deploy low-cost carbon dioxide sensors within Washington, D.C. Her current research explores the use of broadband frequency comb spectroscopy for precision measurements of nitrous oxide in static and dynamic environments. As a Community Science Fellow, she will assist in developing the project scope, recruiting community science partners, and facilitating team efforts throughout the evolution of the project.

Collaborating Organization(s)

This project is supported by funding from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.