UB to install 30 air monitors on Buffalo’s East Side as part of EPA grant

Woman standing at a podium.

Eun-Hye Enki Yoo, associate professor of geography, speaks during a press conference announcing air monitor installations in East Side neighborhoods as part of an EPA grant. Photo: UBNow

By Tom Dinki, originally published in UBNow

Published April 18, 2024



Image of a woman speaking into a microphone.
“We have a huge priority on advancing environmental justice and that really starts in communities like the one here in Buffalo."
Lisa F. Garcia, Regional Administrator
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

UB researchers will soon install approximately 30 air monitors across the city of Buffalo’s East Side in an effort to empower community action.

Officials from UB, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the local community gathered Tuesday at the Delavan-Grider Community Center to discuss the project, which is funded by a $499,963 EPA grant and led by Eun-Hye Enki Yoo, associate professor in the Department of Geography.

“Our research team will build a network of ground sensors that collect air-quality information specific to Buffalo’s East Side,” said Sean Bennett, professor of geography and associate dean for social sciences in the College of Arts and Sciences. “The team will merge this data with measurements from satellites and other sources to provide an unparalleled look at air pollution within individual neighborhoods.”

Bennett added that the project meets all of the university’s three foundational pillars of research, education and service, noting it will also enable students to receive cutting-edge training in fields like GIScience, geostatistics, public health and environmental modeling.

It is one of more than 130 air-quality projects across the United States funded by the American Rescue Plan and Inflation Reduction Act, and aimed at communities that are underserved and historically marginalized.

“We have a huge priority on advancing environmental justice and that really starts in communities like the one here in Buffalo,” said Lisa F. Garcia, EPA regional administrator. 

The East Side is a predominantly Black community with disproportionately negative health outcomes. Research has shown that Black Buffalonians’ life expectancy is five to 10 years shorter than that of Buffalo’s white residents. Black people in Buffalo also experience a 300% increased rate of chronic diseases compared to white Buffalonians.

“We know already that African Americans and people of color are three and a half times more likely to be living in a community with poor air quality,” said the Rev. George Nicholas, CEO of the Buffalo Center for Health Equity. “You combine that with all the other social determinants of health — not enough access to healthy food, income disparities, disparities in educational outcomes for children, lower quality housing stock — and you have poor health outcomes.

The sensors, manufactured by PurpleAir Inc., will be in place for one year before being moved to a second sampling site for another year. To determine the best sites, Yoo, the project’s principal investigator, is using emergency room data to identify hot spots of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, especially asthma among children. 

“We’re going to put more equipment and effort into those areas,” she said. 

The goal is to place the sensors directly at residences, making community outreach crucial. Residents who allow sensors on their property will be compensated.

“It’s really incumbent upon us to be very transparent and very open about what exactly this is,” Nicholas said. “This has to be a welcoming process and not an intrusive process.”

While collecting data alone will not improve air quality, it is an important first step, officials stressed. Municipalities harmed by air quality often lack the concrete evidence to back it up, causing them to miss out on opportunities to apply for grants or effectively advocate for policy change. 

“So this is really to equip the community and then the community decides what type of action they want to take,” Garcia said. “It can span from planting trees to actually working with industries to put in better pollution-control equipment.

“It’s not one-size-fits-all. So the solutions have to be driven by the people living there.”


3. Good Health and Well-Being

10. Reduced Inequalities

11. Sustainable Cities and Communities

17. Partnerships for the Goals