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August 2, 2018

A new WIRED story reports on Associate Professor Dr. Sacoby Wilson (MIAEH) and A. James Clark School of Engineering Associate Professor Dr. Akua Asa-Awuku’s work with the non-profit Thriving Earth Exchange (TEX) to help the community of Brandywine, Maryland collect and act on their own air quality data.

The article details community leader Kamita Gray and air-quality expert Dr. Akua Asa-Awuku’s efforts under TEX to find funding for air quality monitors that meet federal regulations. Collecting this air quality data “Can convince the state of Maryland that Brandywine needs a comprehensive environmental health assessment, and possibly a moratorium on all new industrial projects.”

To help, Dr.Wilson is working with Dr. Asa-Awuku to supply Brandywine community members with affordable air quality sensors that will allow them to self-sufficiently map air quality in their community. This data can then help them make decisions on when to schedule outdoor activities. “We want to make the community self-sufficient when it comes to figuring out what sensors to use, what chemicals to look at, where to map,” adds Dr.Wilson.

The article spotlights the Brandywine community forums organized by Gray, Dr.Wilson, and Dr. Asa-Awuku. These forums are helping to empower community members with knowledge on the “Various health effects of air pollutants” and helping community members recognize that “Toxins in the air are linked to respiratory problems, especially in children.” Equipped with this knowledge, the article notes that community members “Started sharing stories of asthma and bronchitis in their toddlers.”

In the article, Dr. Wilson highlights how a lack of funding as a crucial issue in such grassroots community-science partnerships “Academia incentivizes the science of inquiry, not the science of engagement,” Dr.Wilson says. “We have to change academia so that community-engaged research is valued more than it currently is.”

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Sacoby Wilson