Low-Cost Methods for the Monitoring and Mitigation of Diesel Exhaust Emissions in Environmental Justice Communities in California

Low-Cost Methods for the Monitoring and Mitigation of Diesel Exhaust Emissions in Environmental Justice Communities in California


Air pollution, specifically that from diesel engine sources near seaports, intermodal rail yards, and other industrial activity, disproportionately exposes non-white and low-income communities to toxic air pollutants, such as nitrogen oxides (NOx) and black carbon (BC), a major portion of diesel particulate matter. Not only do these pollutants negatively impact cardio-vascular and respiratory health, but they also contribute to anthropogenic climate change and poor air quality. To reduce diesel pollution and its exposure disparities, the California government has endorsed (1) accelerating the adoption of diesel particle filters and selective catalytic reduction systems for diesel engines and
(2) increasing air quality monitoring and mitigation in communities most impacted by and vulnerable to local pollution.

This work demonstrates the use of low-cost sensors to monitoring and mitigate diesel emissions in three different applications: measurement of BC emission rates from trucks as they passed by a fixed location; measurement of NOx and BC emission rates aboard commercial harbor craft using a modified plume capture technique; and measurement of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and BC concentrations at 50 locations in a community. Together, these demonstrate that low-cost sensors can be used to characterize emission sources where the use of regulatory grade sensors would be limiting due to cost, size, and power requirement. Comprehensive understanding of the abilities and limitations of these low-cost methods will ensure that effective and efficient strategies are developed to reduce emissions in the most vulnerable communities. Expanded application of low-cost sensors provides an opportunity for increasing access to air pollution data that is critical to researchers, environmental justice groups, and policy decision makers alike.


Rebecca Sugrue,
University of California, Berkele

Rebecca is a current PhD Candidate (conferring in August) and National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow in Environmental Engineering at University of California, Berkeley. Here, she has studied and evaluated the use of emerging low-cost air sensors to monitor and mitigate diesel emissions in heavily impacted communities. With her work, Rebecca promotes the use of these sensors to the enable wider access to air quality data and fill in the knowledge gaps that currently exist in these vulnerable communities. She is currently a member of Tom Kirchstetter’s research group and affiliate at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in the Energy Technologies Area.