Bayview air monitoring program helps residents breathe easier

‘We have a human right to have clean air and clean water, period’

We all breathe the same air, but not all air is created equal.

For residents of the Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood in The City’s southeast corner, the air has long been a miasma of industrial pollutants and fumes sputtering from the tailpipes of idling vehicles and crowded freeways.

In late September, local environmental groups rolled out an air monitoring system which they say will empower residents to track, monitor and better understand the air quality in the neighborhood.

“We’re tired of being the case studies,” said Anthony Khalil, an environmental justice advisor who helped launch the project. “We’re tired of being the participants contributing to data. …We’re tired, you know, of being held out of that conversation.”

Now, he said, that data is in the hands of the people.

The Marie Harrison Bayview Air Monitoring Project, named for the beloved and tireless community activist who died of lung disease in 2019, consists of eight air monitors stationed on homes and businesses throughout the neighborhood, including the Bayview Opera House and All Good Pizza on Jerrold Avenue. Two more monitors are awaiting installation, according to Greenaction, the environmental nonprofit running the project.

The monitoring system, funded by the California Air Resources Board’s Assembly Bill 617, is part of the Identifying Violations Affecting Your Neighborhood network, which tracks air quality in other California communities, including the Imperial Valley, Coachella Valley, and Fresno and Kings counties.

The unassuming white boxes dispersed throughout the neighborhood conceal a Dylos air monitor, fan and SD chip. Some also come equipped with a hotspot to upload data to the IVAN website instantaneously where WiFi is scant.

Many of the boxes were installed by longtime resident and air monitor technician, Tiffany Williams, who stressed the importance of the work being driven by local residents.

“I’m not an outsider from a different community,” said Williams. “I’ve been affected by what’s been happening in the Bayview, but I’m also the person getting up and doing these things.”

An air monitoring station at All Good Pizza that is part of the Marie Harrison Bayview Air Monitoring Project on Friday, Oct. 8, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)

An air monitoring station at All Good Pizza that is part of the Marie Harrison Bayview Air Monitoring Project on Friday, Oct. 8, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)

Together, these monitors will tell the story of the air in Bayview Hunters Point in real time and alert residents when the outside air is unsafe to breathe so they can make informed decisions about their health.

It also fills a void in vital information, said Michael Flagg of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, which has supported the project. “Historically … these kinds of communities have less information to understand what’s going on around them, and these sensor networks have the ability to fill that gap,” he said.

Bayview-Hunters Point has one of the heaviest concentrations of industrial uses in San Francisco. Exposure to particulate matter from air pollution has been shown to lead to significant health problems.

“Bayview-Hunters Point residents are hospitalized more than residents of other neighborhoods for almost every disease, including asthma, congestive heart failure, diabetes, and urinary tract infections,” a report from The San Francisco Department of Public Health states. On average, residents can expect to live 14 years less than their counterparts on Russian Hill, according to the Public Health Institute.

Recently, these conditions have been further compounded by the coronavirus and climate change. The neighborhood continues to lead The City in coronavirus cases at a time when another season of wildfire smoke fouls San Francisco’s air. In some cases, that mix has proved fatal. Researchers found that coronavirus patients from areas with high levels of air pollution are more likely to die from the infection.

“That’s the bottom line: We’re concerned about people breathing unhealthy air,” said Bradley Angel, Greenaction’s executive director. “This concern has been increased with wildfire smoke and COVID as a disease that attacks respiratory functions.”

While the newly installed air monitors won’t scrub the air clean of particulates, activists hope that the data will move the needle on substantive action.

“I really hope it holds the government and the decision-makers accountable in terms of what they allow in that community going forward,” said Dalila Adofo, the project’s coordinator. “I’m hoping that the monitors are kind of always in the back of folks’ brains.”

At the September launch event, Leaotis Martin, co-head of the Bayview Hunters Point Mothers and Fathers Committee, invoked Harrison’s legacy as a galvanizing force for the continued fight for the community’s health. “Marie said ‘we won’t stop’ so we don’t stop,” he said. “We have a human right to have clean air and clean water, period.”

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