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Thursday, April 22, 2021

ON EARTH DAY, AG HEALEY JOINS COMMUNITY LEADERS TO ANNOUNCE NEW SPRINGFIELD AIR QUALITY MONITORING PROJECT

 ON EARTH DAY, AG HEALEY JOINS COMMUNITY LEADERS TO ANNOUNCE NEW SPRINGFIELD AIR QUALITY MONITORING PROJECT

AG’s Office Provides Funding for Air Quality Monitors Across Nation’s Asthma Capital; Plants Trees with Office Staff in Adams Park  

BOSTON  On Earth Day, Attorney General Maura Healey joined local elected officials and community leaders in Springfield to launch a new collaborative air quality monitoring project to measure air pollution levels and provide data to inform public health responses in the city known as having the highest rates of asthma in the country.

Today’s announcement was made at an event in Adams Park in Springfield and is part of AG Healey’s work to prioritize protecting public health in environmental justice communities in Massachusetts. AG Healey also joined members of her Environmental Protection Division to plant trees – two Musashino Zelkova and three Heritage River Birch – in the park.  

“For far too long, injustices embedded in environmental and other policies have forced our most vulnerable residents in communities like Springfield to breath polluted air and suffer serious public health consequences,” AG Healey said. “This project will help us address inequities by giving residents the tools they need to monitor pollution in their neighborhoods and protect their health. I want to thank all of our partners in this work to make Springfield a greener and healthier place to be.”

            The air monitoring project will result in the installation of 80 air quality sensors across Springfield to collect data on pollution hotspots and inform public health measures. Specifically, the project includes 40 long-term sensors that will collect information on the concentrations of particulate matter and ozone and 40 short-term sensors that will track information on toxic air contaminants in the city. This project is being run and funded by the AG’s Office in collaboration with the City of Springfield, Yale University, the Public Health Institute of Western Massachusetts, Bay State Health, ReGreen Springfield, and other community organizations and members.

            The sensors are expected to be installed in early June. The location of the sensors will be determined by feedback from community members with the goal of having sensors placed around the city, including several potential locations on the outside of school and municipal buildings and other community institutions like Bay State Health. This effort will significantly expand the air quality monitoring network in Springfield, a city in which nearly one in five children have asthma, leading it to be ranked the “asthma capital” of the country by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. The project will also help address concerns around ozone, a pollutant that puts the health of residents, especially infants and those with asthma at risk.

“In acknowledgement of Earth Day, Executive Director of Parks, Buildings, and Recreation Management Patrick Sullivan and I continue our commitment to making the City of Springfield energy and environmentally effective and efficient,” said Mayor Domenic J. Sarno. “This year will mark 35 years Springfield has been designated as a Tree City USA by the Arbor Day Foundation. Thanks to our Parks Department, especially our Forestry Division and City Forester Alex Sherman, Springfield was able to plant over 400 trees throughout the City in 2020, which represented a 50 percent increase over the prior year. We look forward to continuing our tree planting operations this year. I want to thank Attorney General Maura Healey and her staff for partnering with the City of Springfield and other community stakeholders on this new air quality monitoring project. This project supports my administration’s ongoing green initiatives to improving our air quality and protecting our environment.”   

“Poor air quality is a long-standing issue in the Greater Springfield Area,” said Dr. Krystal Pollitt Assistant Professor of Environmental Health Science at Yale University School of Public Health. “The generous support from AG Healey to establish an air sensor network across the region represents an important step in making air quality information more accessible to the community. I am excited by the long-term opportunities presented by this air sensor network to enhance residents’ understanding of air pollution, the health implications, and actions they can take to prevent the adverse effects of poor air quality.”

We are proud of the collaboration between the Attorney General’s Office, the City of Springfield, resident advisors from the Pioneer Valley Asthma and Live Well Springfield Coalitions, Yale University researchers and environmental organizations like ReGreen Springfield and Earthwatch,” said Sarita Hudson, Director of Programs and Development for the Public Health Institute of Western Massachusetts and the Pioneer Valley Asthma Coalition. “This project prioritizes community involvement by engaging community residents in determining where to locate the sensors, how to share the data with residents, and how to take action to avoid exposures. This project will allow us to collect real-time data to help us understand the air quality in Springfield and guide us in taking action to make Springfield a more resilient community where everyone has clean air to breathe.

“ReGreen Springfield is excited to be part of this important initiative, which will provide data that can be used to help develop strategies to make our neighborhoods healthier and more resilient,” said David Bloniarz, President of ReGreen Springfield. “This initiative represents a partnership of environmental agencies, community residents, non-profit organizations and scientific researchers, who are all working to make Springfield a better place to live for our residents. We know that this will be a ‘game changer’ as we continue our efforts to improve environmental and public health across the city.”

Data collected from the sensors will be analyzed by Yale University and the Public Health Institute of Western Massachusetts and published in a report. In addition, a website will be launched at the end of June to allow residents to view minute-by-minute information on the air quality in their neighborhoods and take the necessary precautions to protect themselves from exposure. The information will also be used to inform the enforcement work of the AG’s Environmental Protection Division, which has prioritized investigations and cases environmental justice communities that have been overburdened for decades with pollution from industrial facilities, power plants, highways, and other pollution sources.

Today’s announcement implements one of the recommendations made in a brief the AG’s Office released in May 2020 detailing the environmental factors that compound the COVID-19 pandemic’s disparate impact on communities of color in Massachusetts. The brief outlined steps the state should take to address the longstanding impact of environmental injustice on families, including the installation of a robust network of air quality monitors to better track hot spots of particle pollution within vulnerable neighborhoods. The brief highlighted a study by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health that linked long term exposure to fine particulate matter, which will soon be measured by the sensors in Springfield, and increased rates of COVID-19 cases and deaths.

           The AG’s Office challenged many of the Trump Administration’s failures to strengthen federal standards for air quality and other rollbacks of air quality protections, including through lawsuits to challenge weak air quality standards for particulate matter and ozone. On its first day in office, the Biden Administration issued its “Executive Order on Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis,” which calls for federal agencies to “advance environmental justice,” and to review and potentially reverse the Trump Administration’s environmental rollbacks.

Earlier this month, more than 20 environmental and public health organizations including the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America sent a letter to President Biden urging the administration to make investments to address air pollution and climate change. The letter specifically called for the expansion and modernization of the country’s air quality monitoring system, noting that nearly half of the country’s population lives in a county with failing grades for ozone pollution or particulate matter like Springfield.

            This project is being overseen for the AG’s Office by Attorney Emily Mitchell, Special Assistant Attorney General Nora Chorover, and Division Chief Betsy Harper, all of AG Healey’s Environmental Protection Division. 

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