Though not super well attended (18 or 19), the age-range in attendance and conversation was great and the event was very participatory. Forest and other participants were invited to add our thoughts/concerns/questions/goals for monitoring to big input sheets, play with creating stable housing for the minitors, and see the influence of air movement, humidity, and light on the little DustDuino sensor that PublicLab is working on. It was great to personally meet Matt Lippincott (Portland) and Stevie Lewis (New Orleans), with whom Forest has had a fair number of e-mail conversations and a couple phone calls.
So at the moment there are a few air monitoring options available. At the top of the line, there is the uber-high quality monitor that Crispin Pierce and folks had to have the big push to finance (around $34,000) which tests for particulates in the air at the PM2.5 level we have been told is the best to test for, as those are the ones that cause the most harm.
A step below that is the DustTrackII, which is on the market for roughly $6000. It will also monitor for PM2.5. Neither of these tools, however, do dust speciation (what % is silica, what is diesel fumes, what is carbonate rock…) and there are, in fact, no monitors available currently that sample specifically for crystalline silica.
PublicLab is currently playing with a couple models of air monitors that have come on the market recently in the $200 range, though both have issues that make them not ideal (one spits out arbitrary #s and the formula for what those #s mean and the actual concentrations of particulate matter in the air is proprietary). The software for one of them is being open-sourced and will likely be used in PublicLab’s model.
Again, the monitor being developed by PublicLab would track PM2.5, but would not be able to parse out what was silica. However, at that point, either swab tests or a tiny filter-based air monitor ($50, plus $50-$80 per test for filter and analysis) developed by Tom Peters of UofI could feasibly be used to determine the % silica in the dust and extrapolate silica concentrations in the air that way.
PublicLab hopes to develop their monitors by April 2015 and will be calibrating them alongside the DustTrack monitors through the Summer. Though there is still a lot that is up in the air, they hope to be able to make them available to folks in the $100 range. An issue Forest learned with the current monitoring being done around some mines is that, while higher concentrations of dust will give a more accurate reading, the mines will monitor for 24 hours, and log that number (often at “negligible levels” allowing them to put 0 for the concentration) and then take an average of those daily concentrations. This gives them lower numbers since so many days were rounded off to 0, though at some points in that week dust concentrations may have reached unsafe levels.
PublicLab also really likes kites and balloons for aerial photography (with their software that allows one to stitch together the images into a whole.) Drones can only be legally flown 400′ high and within sight of the operator as they are considered aircraft. Kites and balloons, on the other hand, are considered toys and can be brought up to 2000′ quite easily. Mary Kenosian has begun testing out kite models, but is nervous about strapping a camera with a $1000 lens to one. Matt L is a wealth of knowledge on kites and has many models he has tried in high, medium, and low winds and recommendations for them. He suggests bamboo and tyvec for building materials.