Environmental Justice in the Community and Home: Monitoring Indoor and Outdoor NO2 Pollution in Springfield

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Krystal Pollitt
Essay Abstract: 
Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) is an air pollutant that is primarily emitted from the combustion of fossil fuels, and found at elevated levels in urban environments. A major source outdoors is vehicle emissions, and a major source indoors is natural gas stoves. Elevated ambient concentrations of NO2 have been associated with an increased risk of asthma development, as well as aggravated asthma symptoms. While steps toward NO2 regulation have occurred in outdoor environments, human exposures indoors can be highly personalized based on different combustion sources and access to house ventilation. This thesis investigates how NO2 concentrations differ between local indoor and outdoor air spaces, and what home retrofitting interventions should be prioritized to most effectively lower the NO2 exposures that families with asthmatic individuals are experiencing. Using a case study in Springfield, MA, this thesis tracks NO2 exposure in different households, analyzes who is most exposed, and proposes techniques for communities to use public health knowledge and risk communication to advance environmental justice. Initial results indicated that NO2 monitors recorded both indoor and outdoor concentrations that are high enough to potentially impact respiratory health, and exacerbate asthma symptoms. This pilot program can successfully inform specific types of recommendations for improving indoor air quality. Certain households recorded indoor NO2 concentrations that were over double the outdoor concentration. Community health workers can recommend that stovetop and window ventilation should be increased when cooking to allow NO2 to diffuse outside, and are providing portable air purifiers to remove high indoor concentrations when not cooking. Other houses recorded similar indoor and outdoor NO2 levels. This suggested that ventilation was occurring during cooking, and should be maintained, but air purifiers with closed window ventilation can further improve indoor air. These deployments can continue with confidence, and a greater sample size will allow the further analysis of the spatial distribution of NO2 across different socioeconomic backgrounds.