On Saturday, May 23rd, I (Mitchell Blau, INHALE Intern and ex-Dustbuster), Lynda Lukasik, and three eager volunteers (our fourth was in a stroller and mostly eager for snacks!) set out on a James St. North walkabout. Our mission: to amble about under sun and blue skies and talk about air quality in Hamilton’s Jamesville Neighbourhood.
Figure.1: A bird's-eye view of our route
Immediately out the door, the air was “good.” You can see all the green nodes clustered around James Street N and York/Wilson in Figure.1 above. Even the yellow nodes are reasonably fine.
Our Dylos air monitors measure Particulate Matter (PM) by the number of particles per 1/100th of a square foot, but the national guidelines are in PM2.5 µg/m3.
To draw an analogy: if PM were eggs, our monitors tell us how many eggs there are, while the national guideline sets the allowable weight per carton. Experience with the conversion tables has taught me that the PM “danger zone” is between 2,000-6,000+. If the Dylos counts above 6,000, you do not want to be breathing that all day. You can feel the air get thick as you breath it, and counts that high (especially around construction or traffic) are often accompanied by strong odours.
Figure.2: The data
We hit that 6000+ “limit” within minutes of stepping out the door. The street was being repaved about a block from the Environment Hamilton office. The air was thick from it. We took an irregular path through the construction on the way out and the way back, creating the two parallel sets of nodes you see above. Each node is a unique measurement, but you can see in the right image of Figure.2 what a maroon sample indicates. The chart indicates a Dylos count of 6,027 particles per 1/100th of a cubed foot. What does this mean? It means that the construction created local air quality conditions that were significantly worse than the overall air quality in Downtown Hamilton
Now, this isn’t to say that construction is bad, or unnecessary. This construction was a temporary exposure, and the value-added to James is not insignificant. Instead, consider that necessary construction has costs, costs as important as their dollar value, one of which is to local air quality. Particulate released during construction can be harmful unless proper measures (not idling, water spray, etc.) aren’t implemented to control particulate pollution.
That said, look north and follow the line of coloured data nodes in Figure.1. The transition from mostly green to mostly yellow is precisely where the road closure ended and traffic began. Further, the occasional orange dot sprinkled within the yellow usually mark where the monitors passed people smoking on the street. Air quality can be very strongly impacted within small areas by individual sources of exposure
For those who live in, work at, or travel on James st. North (or more broadly in the Hamilton Downtown), there is no meaningful distinction between chronic exposures (traffic, industry, etc.) and acute exposures (construction, cigarette smoke, etc.). It all accumulates into “the air quality on Saturday, May 23rd”.
Air quality improvement solutions must look both at the overall air or a city, and envision individual solutions for the different types of exposure. Construction, traffic, industry, even smoking a cigarette can all be the most impactful particulate exposure to an individual’s health.
The problem might be daunting, but we have good reasons to put in the time.
Meet our new "Citizen Scientists" Brandon & Abby