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A Bench that Benchmarks Air Quality

Thursday, April 23, 2015

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PHILADELPHIA—Weather watchers and air-quality aficionados have an unusual new source of real-time data—and can even relax in the park while gathering it.

The U.S Environmental Protection Agency has developed an innovative park bench with a built-in monitoring station that measures various air pollution and weather metrics.

The bench, known as the Village Green Station, took up residence on the eve of Earth Day 2015 at Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia.


Weather, maps, ozone and particulate-matter data stream continuously from the Village Green Station to the project's web site, where it is checked for accuracy and displayed continuously.

In the shadow of Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, the bench will gather the data and stream it to the Village Green Project web site for public use.

Pollution and the Public

“The most important part of the Village Green Station is to communicate air-quality information to the community and engage the public on the importance of air quality,” said EPA Mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator Shawn M. Garvin.

“Data collected at this park bench will be useful for research and education, and it will posted every minute to an interactive website.”

The air pollution sensors measure two types of pollutants: ozone and fine particle pollution (also known as particulate matter, or PM), both of which can be harmful to human health.  

The station will monitor wind speed and direction, temperature, relative humidity and other weather elements that are important to understanding local air-quality trends.

The data collected are displayed on a monitor and streamed automatically to the web site, but the information is reviewed "instantly" to ensure its quality and accuracy before it is displayed online, officials said.

IndependenceHallCrowds AssemblyRm-IndepHall

Visitors to Independence Hall in Philadelphia will can add a 21st-century attraction to the place where the U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence were both signed and where President Lincoln's body reposed in 1865.

The built-in monitoring station runs on a battery charged by solar and wind power. The instruments supported by the battery "provide continuous, minute-by-minute measurements" that are monitored by Philadelphia Air Management Services.

An EPA spokesman declined to disclose the cost of the station.

One in Five

The station in Philadelphia is one of five nationwide that is testing the new technology. Other locations are Washington, D.C.; Kansas City, KS; Oklahoma City, OK; and Hartford, CT. Plans are underway to expand the number of sites.

Philadelphia was chosen for its proximity to vehicle and pedestrian traffic, the EPA said. The data generated by the site, a major tourist destination, will be used to educate visitors and residents about street-level pollution exposure.

“Climate change is proving to be a challenge for national parks in ways we've never seen before,” said Independence National Historical Park Superintendent Cynthia MacLeod.

“But with a better understanding of the data, with improved knowledge, we can do more to respond to this challenge.”

About Village Green

The Village Green Project, which was piloted in Durham, NC, is a community activity that aims to show the capabilities of new real-time monitoring technology to "residents and citizen scientists" who want to learn more about local air quality.

PhilaBench VillageGreenLogo
The weather- and pollution-monitoring Village Green Station began in June 2013 in Durham, NC (left). The pilot project has now expanded to five cities—most recently, Philadelphia.

The goal of the project is to provide those groups with air-quality information not previously available and to "engage communities in air pollution awareness."

Philadelphia Health Commissioner James Buehler called the Village Green station "an exciting new resource for helping Philadelphia's residents and visitors better understand the connection between air quality and their health."

He said his agency would work closely with EPA and the Park Service over the next year as part of its education and outreach effort

To check online air quality and weather data from the station, click here.

Editor's Note: This post was updated at 8:45 a.m. April 23, 2015, to add information.


Tagged categories: Air pollution control; Air quality; Hazardous air pollutants; Health and safety; Solar energy

Comment from Mike Lambertson, (4/23/2015, 7:36 AM)

With all the renovations going on in Cleveland's Public Square, it would be neat to add one of these benches to this new area.

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (4/23/2015, 8:37 AM)

That looks like a great implementation - instead of fencing off your station, turn it into a functional improvement for the area. I especially like including PM2.5 - any idea what the cost per unit is now, and what it is expected to be if they go into widespread production?

Comment from Mary Chollet, (4/23/2015, 8:50 AM)

Tom, the story should have noted that we asked the EPA about the cost, and the agency's spokesman declined to comment on that. The article has been updated. Thanks.

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