EPA grants to enhance air pollution monitoring in region

By Scott Merzbach for the Gazette
November 10, 2023

People walk around during the Grand Opening of the new Hitchcock Center Saturday, Oct. 1, 2016 at 845 West Street in Amherst.

This article was originally published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette.

AMHERST — Amherst’s Hitchcock Center for the Environment will be taking an active role in ensuring rural communities in the area are part of an expanded regional air pollution monitoring network, while Holyoke residents will be among those benefiting from a state program aimed at reducing environmental triggers for asthma in their homes.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency recently announced $4.2 million in environmental justice projects in Massachusetts aimed at providing residents better access to clean air and water and promoting climate resilience solutions that align with President Joe Biden’s Justice40 Initiative.

The $500,000 going to the Hitchcock Center will expand and deepen community-based air pollution monitoring, and associated training and education in the Connecticut River Valley region, by adding rural communities to the larger cities and towns already participating in the Healthy Air Network.

In addition, the Hitchcock Center will incorporate measuring extreme heat as a related climate risk, and support youth engagement and action on air pollution.

Hitchcock Center Executive Director Billy Spitzer said in a statement that his organization is honored to collaborate with the Public Health Institute of Western Massachusetts and other community partners in the region to address the intersection of air quality, climate change and health.

“This work is central to our efforts to develop hopeful, creative problem-solvers who can take on the environmental challenges we face,” Spitzer said.

In 2021, the state attorney general’s office backed the installation of 75 long-term air quality monitors in neighborhoods in Holyoke, Easthampton, Greenfield, Athol, Springfield, Chicopee, East Longmeadow and Westfield. In early 2023, additional communities near the Interstate 91 corridor were put into the program, including Northampton, Amherst, Hadley, Deerfield and Sunderland, as well as Orange and Palmer.

Pedestrians cross High Street in front of Holyoke City Hall. FILE PHOTO

The Public Health Institute also works with Yale University, the cities of Springfield and Holyoke, ReGreen Springfield, Earthwatch and the Massachusetts Asthma Action Partnership, said Executive Director Jessica Collins.

“We are committed to bringing this valuable resource to our region,” Collins said. “This tool is helping residents understand air quality and its impact on health and well-being.”

Democratic U.S. Rep. James P. McGovern, whose congressional district includes Amherst, said it is important to have more communities be on the front lines of fighting climate change and that financial support from the federal government acknowledges the struggles of the many rural communities he represents.

“Poor air quality and extreme heat don’t just affect our health, but can hurt our food system, wildlife and other parts of our ecosystem,” McGovern said. “Engaging in this work means we are committed to long-overdue investments in the environment and to creating a better world for our children and grandchildren.”

For Holyoke residents, along with those living in Springfield and Chicopee, $1 million is going to the state’s Department of Public Health to make “measurable and meaningful improvements in asthma outcomes.” The idea is to use the federal money to leverage various funding sources to provide in-home environmental remediations for vulnerable residents.

EPA New England Regional Administrator David Cash outlined the needs in the six New England states.

“Across New England, these selectees are poised to catalyze lasting change and make a profound difference, bringing cleaner air and water to their communities, combating climate change, creating green jobs, and improving environmental health,” Cash said. “We eagerly anticipate the enduring impact the grants in Massachusetts will have in our region, advancing our common goal of environmental justice.”

The money is coming from grants under the EPA’s Environmental Justice Collaborative Problem Solving Cooperative Agreement, and Environmental Justice Government-to-Government grant programs funded by the Inflation Reduction Act.

Among other recipients are the city of Boston, to improve indoor air quality and electric infrastructure of properties in Dorchester; the Mystic River Watershed Association in Arlington, to increase resilience to extreme heat and reduce conditions that exacerbate respiratory incidents and emergency room visits caused by heat; and the Nashua River Watershed Association in Groton, to implement green infrastructure solutions in Fitchburg.

Read more about this grant and the Healthy Air Network in our official press release. 
Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.

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