WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Wednesday, April 10, 2024, the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee held a hearing to examine the state of low-cost air quality monitoring sensor technologies, as well as the opportunities and challenges for communities to obtain accurate and reliable information and data about their local air quality.

Below is the opening statement of Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.), as prepared for delivery:

“Though air pollution can be a complex topic to address, the goal of this hearing is simple: to examine the role that low-cost air quality sensors can play in helping us collect more data about our air so we can do a better job of protecting public health and engaging communities in those responses.

“Today, we will discuss how new air quality sensor technology is making it possible for state and local air quality agencies to work with businesses and their communities. In particular, we will hear about how low-cost sensor technology is supplementing existing data-gathering and how the technologies are evolving, as well as how local regulators are incorporating these sensors into their work.

“Low-cost air quality sensors are becoming an important tool in the toolbox of air agencies. But it is important to distinguish what their limitations are so that they can be integrated successfully into community-level public health initiatives. Anyone can buy one of these sensors. They only cost a couple of hundred dollars.

“The Environmental Protection Agency refers to these low-cost devices as ‘sensors.’ They should not be confused with the ‘monitors’ that the states use to regulate air quality under EPA guidance. This distinction between sensors and monitors is important, so I will repeat it. Today, we are talking about ‘sensors,’ which are low-cost tools to collect data on specific pollutants. We are not talking about the ‘monitors’ that states use for regulation under EPA direction.

“Low-cost air quality sensors are not replacing regulatory monitors. Regulatory monitors are far more sophisticated, cost tens of thousands of dollars, and are the backbone of EPA’s ability to regulate air quality across our country.

“Many of us already have low-cost air quality sensors in our homes. Carbon monoxide detectors and smoke detectors ‘sniff’ the air and alert you when a problem is detected. The air quality sensors that we will discuss today work the same way.” 

“As members of this Committee have heard me say before, everything I do, I know I can do better. The same is true for reducing air pollution — we, as a nation, can and must do more to address pollutants in our air. Despite our nation’s significant strides since passing the Clean Air Act of 1970, air pollution still negatively impacts far too many Americans, especially in low-income communities and communities of color.

“The Center for Air, Climate, and Energy Solutions found that people of color are disproportionately exposed to an air pollutant called fine particulate matter, also known as ‘soot.’ Exposure to these small but powerful pollutants is linked to lung and heart problems, especially for children or people with chronic respiratory diseases. The good news is that low-cost air quality sensors can help detect this kind of pollution and they are being used appropriately in a growing number of communities.

“We have a moral obligation to ensure that all Americans — no matter their zip code — are free from the burden of pollution. That means equipping communities with tools to improve individuals’ access to information about the quality of their air. Sensors help with that.

“Some of you may recall that this Committee held a hearing in July of 2022 that discussed the risk of living near, or downwind of, facilities that emit air pollution. Harmful air pollutants disproportionately affect these ‘front-line communities.’

“But many Americans today do not even know they are being exposed to dangerous levels of air pollution. That is why sensors are critical — because they ‘sniff’ the air, and detect pollutants that the human eye or nose cannot detect. And this technology is getting better and more affordable by the day.

“Collecting local air data helps states, Tribes and communities find pollution hotspots and identify facilities that may be generating excess pollution. Low-cost sensors also save air agencies money by enabling them to direct resources to where the worst pollution is.

“I often say, ‘find what works and do more of that.’ Today, we will hear from one of our witnesses about what is working with low-cost air quality sensors in Denver, Colorado — one of the best examples of a local air agency working proactively with health care organizations, schools and neighborhoods. 

“In other places across our country, cities and local groups are working with their air regulators at the state-level. For example, Utah’s Department of Environmental Quality is partnering with the University of Utah, as well as with other state and local organizations, to stand up a new air quality sensor program on the west side of the Salt Lake Valley. This program will provide instant, local air quality information through air maps and alerts. 

“These sensors complement regulatory monitors. For example, during the wildfires last summer in Delaware, the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, or DNREC, used data from eleven regulatory monitors, data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and data from low-cost sensors to track air pollution. Using all three sources, DNREC was able to quickly issue public health advisories for vulnerable residents.

“In closing, clean air is good for human health, it’s good for our economy, and it’s good for our planet. We look forward to hearing more from our colleagues and our witnesses on the ways in which low-cost air quality sensors can help us reduce air pollution and protect public health.”