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May 4, 2024 7 mins
In April, to mark Earth Week, state officials in Massachusetts announced a new $775,000 grant will be used in the coming months to put more air sensors in place around the Commonwealth, with a special focus on "environmental justice" communities - low-income and under-served cities and towns that often feel the worst impacts of pollution and climate change. MassDEP Commissioner Bonnie Heiple has details about the plan and how they hope to use the data to put policy in place that will improve air quality for those communities.
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Episode Transcript

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From WBZ News Radio in Boston.This is New England Weekend. Each week
we come together, we talk aboutall the topics important to you and the
place where you live. Great tobe back with you, of course,
as always, I'm Nicole Davis.Now. Last month on WBZ, we
told you about how the state isinvesting about seven hundred and seventy five thousand
dollars into a bunch of brand newair quality sensors. These sensors are going

to be deployed all over the Commonwealth, but specifically they're focusing on what the
state calls environmental justice communities. Thoseare cities and towns, even specific neighborhoods
where over the years marginalized people havefelt the brunt of the impacts of pollution
and climate change. Bonnie Hypeld,the State Commissioner of the Department of Environmental
Protection, is here on the show. We're going to talk right now about

this initiative, why they're doing this, all these sensors, what they really
can do. A Commissioner hypol itis so good to have you. Where
did this move come from. Whyare we focusing on sensor specifically? We
the heally driscal administration are really focusedon air quality as a big part of
our environmental protection and equity priorities.Mass GP operates the network of twenty four

air monitoring stations located across the statethat give us a really good sense for
current air quality levels. And manyof these have actually been operating for a
number of years, so they giveus also over time, a sense for
how air quality is improving, iftraffic or other impacts are making air quality

worse, and really both informing residentsof local air quality conditions and giving us
as environmental regulators the basis to developprograms to reduce air pollution. We've made
some really significant strides in that areaalready, things like placing tricked limits on
power plants emissions, adopting vehicle emissionstandards, and awarding millions of dollars in

grants to purchase electric vehicles and installcharging stations. So we have greatly reduced
the number of unhealthy air days weexperience here in Massachusetts, but there's still
work to do, so we arecontinuing to invest in better air quality.
We're dedicating seven hundred and seventy fivethousand dollars to expand air sensors in our

communities and that's really through two programs. The first is we're working with communities
to install more than two hundred particulatesensors across the state. So these you
may have seen them. They're thesmall kind of softball sized sensors that measure
fine particulate matter, which has beenknown to lead to increased instances of asthma

and other respiratory illnesses. Where arethe new sensors going to be going specifically?
Sure, So the twenty four isthe number of air monitoring stations we
have. So those are the largerkind of trailer size stations that really provide
comprehensive air quality monitoring and really usefuldata. Those are also really expensive,

right, This is you know,highly technical types of monitors. We have
to staff those. There are youknow, other resources involved. The seven
hundred and seventy five thousand dollars isinvesting in these smaller air sensors, so
things like those soft ball sized purpleair they call them sensors that measure things

like find particulate matter. See othertype of sensors we're using with Part of
this new investment will be focused inenvironmental justice communities. We know that air
quality tends to be worse in environmentaljustice communities. So this will give us
a much better sense of how toquantify that that problem and give us the

basis again to develop better policies andprograms to improve air quality. And we
certainly have had our issues with airquality, not just in those communities.
Remember last year when we had theCanadian wildfires and the air quality was just
miserable for weeks and weeks at atime. The City of Boston, State
of Massachusetts all very into trying toget ahead of the impacts of climate change.

These seem to be pretty important toolsfor you to move forward with that
work. These are tremendously important toolsthings like the Canadian wildfires. Certainly our
air monitoring stations and air sensors thathave been deployed already were that was our
source in Massachusetts for data on theimpacts of those wildfires. So, you

know, resident awareness is a reallybig piece of this. Having the ability
to at your fingertips, you know, with a keystroke on your phone or
your computer, have access to thatdata, particularly if you have a health
condition or you know, just wantto have that information to make decisions about
how you're going about your day.The second piece of it, of course,

is that again as regulators as astate administration, for things that we
can control within our borders, sourcesof air pollutants here. Again, this
gives us the data to make scientificallybased policy adjustments to further improve our air
quality here in Massachusetts. So what'sthe timeline on this. Obviously the grants
were just announced during Earth Week,but what is the timeline for rolling these

out and purchasing them and getting themin place. So we're purchasing these sensors
right now, and we certainly havemore familiarity having already deployed about two hundred
and fifty of the particulate matter thosepurple air sensors already, so we'll be
able to roll those out quite soon. The second type of sensors that I
mentioned where we're focused on environmental justicecommunities, these are new technologies. So

these are multipollutant sensors which measure arange of pollutants things like ozone, carbon
monoxide, as well as black carbonsensors which measure diesel emissions. We're piloting
this program. These are new technologiesthat we are becoming more familiar with as
an agency and partnering with communities todevelop new types of air quality data in

those areas where we know there arebens and challenges in the past. And
I would imagine you know, officialsin those environmental justice communities they're hearing this
news. They must be really happyto have this data coming in from the
state to help them with their ownlocal policy as well. Absolutely, people
are I think, really cheering onthis program. We know, you know,

areas located near highways, near youknow, manufacturing or other types of
facilities that emit air pollutants. Weknow where there are some challenges. Again,
we have made tremendous drides and reallyimproved air quality here in Massachusetts more
than most places in the nation,but we're not got aside with that.
So we really are looking to expandour data points and expand our policies to

make sure that we are addressing thoseareas that continue to be problematic. We
do all enjoy clean air. Lasttime my check, so I am not
mad at that Commissioner Hypel Thank youso much for the time. I really
appreciate it. Course, thank youfor your interest. Have a safe and
healthy weekend. Please join me againnext week for another edition. Of the
show. I'm Nicole Davis from WBZnews Radio on iHeartRadio
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