South Regional Library’s new bench tracks air quality, weather conditions

Jun. 22, 2013 @ 04:08 PM

Venture closer to an unassuming park bench outside Durham’s South Regional Library, and you’ll encounter a science lab fed by solar power.

Durham leaders and library officials gathered outside Saturday morning to celebrate the first-of-its-kind bench that measures air quality. The new technology is part of the Village Green Project, an effort led by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to develop next-generation air pollution monitoring systems. The “Village Green” is a New England term for a town’s public green spaces.

The system’s sensors measure ozone pollutants, particle pollution and black carbon, which can cause health problems at high levels, minute by minute. Weather conditions such as wind speed, direction, temperature and humidity also are recorded. The public can then track the daily air quality report and notice trends from the collected data online. The prototype system cost about $15,000 to create.

Tammy Baggett, the Durham County Library director, said that the EPA approached the library about the Village Green Project and that the research would benefit and teach Lowe’s Grove Middle School students across the street.

“I always say only in Durham, and I say this with the biggest smile,” Baggett said. “It really is about bringing the community together.”

The library also will fly a daily air quality flag, ranging from green, which represents good air quality, to purple, meaning the air quality is extremely unhealthy.

Community leaders cut a ribbon made from recycled materials by the EPA’s First Environments Early Learning Center. Families checked out interactive, environmental workspaces inside the library, and children participated in storytime.

Gayle Hagler with the local EPA office has worked with air quality data for almost a decade in different corners of the world, from southern China to the Greenland ice sheet. She said people don’t want unattractive, industrial systems that require a lot of power in the middle of their communities. The bench system they created would answer that dilemma.

She attended the celebration Saturday with her family, including 3-year-old Graham and 8-month-old Naomi.

“It’s something that’s connected to having children, to having a family, and I’m excited that I can take my family here and show them what mommy does,” Hagler said.

Durham residents can find the daily air quality report or track local air quality trends online at villagegreen.epa.gov.