To Breathe or Not to Breathe?

Free factory pollution image

The last thing polluted communities need is more pollution, yet unfortunately it’s what they often get. 

We work hard to protect the air we breathe. The cumulative effects from multiple sources of air pollution, especially in the young and the elderly, increase the risk of developing asthma and other respiratory illnesses, as well as cancer and heart disease. Year after year we engage the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) on the air pollution permits it issues across the State, advocating for better controls, adequate monitoring, and community engagement.

Last year, to help us better engage with communities affected by unhealthy air quality, the Missouri Foundation for Health gave us a grant enabling us to place air monitors in some of our most affected communities. This air monitoring project was borne out of partner concerns about the high incidence of asthma in their Communities.

In collaboration with community partners Dutchtown South Community Corporation, A Red Circle and the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group, we designed a monitoring network under the guidance of WashU engineering professor Jay Turner. The City of St. Louis gave Great Rivers permission to place our air monitors on its street light poles, and Dr. Turner’s graduate students installed the air monitors. Today, the monitors are in place and collecting data. (You can track the results and learn more about the project here.)


Air monitors installed in the Dutchtown, Old North, Pine Lawn neighborhoods of St. Louis. A total of 20 new air sampling sites were introduced, a major increase from the 8 active monitoring sites that previously existed in the whole St. Louis metropolitan area. (Picture credit: Yan He, Washington University in St. Louis.)

The project is timely, as the St. Louis metro area was recently “bumped up” by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to moderate nonattainment because of continued ozone pollution in the region.

The placement of the monitors and the data collected is enabling our community partners and their members to see first-hand how close they live, work, and play to unhealthy levels of air pollution. Armed with the data from the monitors, we advocate for more air monitoring in overburdened communities; for regulators to better account for the cumulative impacts of polluting sources; and for regulators to proactively engage with overburdened communities early in the permitting process.

(Header image via Openverse.)

Great Rivers Environmental Law Center is a non-profit 501(c)3 environmental law center providing free and low cost services to protect the environment and public health. They work to promote the public health by encouraging cleaner energy, improved environmental performance by businesses, and more efficient transportation and land use, thereby achieving cleaner air and water, and improving the quality of life in the region. Learn more at

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