ARMN Ozone Team Hosts Event for the International Day of Clean Air

By Barbara Hoffheins

ARMN’s Ozone Bioindicator Garden at Walter Reed Community Center (WRCC) in Arlington was recently the site of an event to commemorate the International Day of Clean Air. This occasion corresponded wonderfully with the objective of the ozone garden: to collect data on the impact of tropospheric or ground level-ozone air pollution on plants.

ARMN installed the bioindicator garden in 2020 in cooperation with NASA, the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics Science Education, and Arlington County.

Planning for the event began when Laura Fuller from the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) office in Washington, DC, contacted ARMN member Jane Metcalf (an original member of the ozone garden team) to determine whether UNEP could meet at the Ozone Garden to celebrate the International Day of Clean Air for blue skies 2023 on September 7.

From there, members of Team Ozone (Todd Minners, Bridget Baron, Anne Doll, Jon Bell, and Barbara Hoffheins) worked with UNEP staff to design the event. With the exceptional help of staff at the community center, they were able to secure space for an in-person and virtual meeting. 

The UN designated the day to acknowledge the need to improve air quality. The International Institute for Sustainable Development states that “The International Day of Clean Air is commemorated annually on 7 September in recognition of the fact that clean air is important for the health and day-to-day lives of people, while air pollution is the single greatest environmental risk to human health and one of the main avoidable causes of death and disease globally.”

The event included speakers from the United Nations, NASA, the U.S. Department of Energy, Howard University, and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).

Panel (l-r): Rafael Peralta, UNEP; John Haynes, NASA; Kelly Crawford, U.S. Dept. of Energy; Joseph Wilkins, Howard University; Daniel Buss, Pan American Health Organization; and Sandra Cavalieri, Climate and Clean Air Coalition; Photo by Lea Schlatter.

Rafael Peralta, Director, North America Office of UNEP, opened with an overview of the program. John Haynes, Program Manager, NASA Health and Air Quality Applications, discussed a new satellite, TEMPO (Tropospheric Emissions: Monitoring of Pollution), which was launched April 7 for placement in a geostationary orbit to measure air pollution over North America. The TEMPO quick facts site states that: “Due to the high spatial and temporal resolution of the spectrometer, TEMPO data will improve emission inventories, monitor population exposure to pollution, and make it possible for regulatory agencies to implement effective emission control strategies.”

Kelly Crawford, Department of Energy Senior Advisor for Energy Equity and Environmental Justice, said her office uses information from sources like TEMPO to target neighborhoods and regions of poor air quality for installation of clean energy systems such as solar power under the Infrastructure Reduction Act. Her
office also supports related research at minority universities.

Dr. Joseph Wilkins, Assistant Professor for Atmospheric Science at Howard University, discussed air quality research in which data from sources like TEMPO are analyzed and interpreted to understand pollution impacts. He also discussed Howard’s emphasis on preparing students for the workforce and described numerous scientific missions that give atmospheric science graduate students direct, hands-on experience.

Sandra Cavalieri, Hub Manager for the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) addressed the current issues in pollution reduction. The CCAC is a UNEP program with the goal of reducing short-lived climate pollutants that can quickly impact global warming, air quality, food security and human health. Its members include Bangladesh, Canada, Ghana, Mexico, Sweden, and the United States.

Daniel Buss, Unit Chief for Climate Change and Health at the Pan American Health Organization, described his organization’s efforts to reduce the use of solid fuels in the Americas that contribute to hundreds of thousands of premature deaths per year from outdoor and indoor air pollution.

In addition, Todd Minners gave an overview of ARMN and its roles in the community and Barbara Hoffheins introduced the audience to the ARMN Ozone Garden.

At the garden: Left to right, Laura Fuller and Rafael Peralta, UNEP; John Haynes, NASA; Kelly Crawford, Dept. of Energy; Joseph Wilkins, Howard University. Photo by Todd Merriman

From there, the meeting went outside where everyone viewed the Ozone Garden and inspected the plants. Petya Campbell and Pawan Gupta from NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Biospheric Sciences Laboratory, demonstrated portable instruments for gauging leaf health and measuring PM 2.5 (particulate matter). Ozone team members also used the equipment to take measurements of the plants.

About 40 people attended, including graduate students from Howard University, George Washington University, and University of Maryland, and members of the public. The event could also be viewed virtually.

All in all, it was an interesting event that also generated more awareness of ARMN programs. ARMN hopes for greater collaboration with Howard University for rigorous study at the garden. Dr. Wilkins expressed interest in installing an ozone sensor and two of his students indicated interest in collecting and interpreting data for their projects.

Stay tuned for updates later this year on the Ozone Garden’s progress and information collection. For additional background, see these blogs on the garden from 2021 and 2022.

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