Independence Mall adds pollution-sensing park bench

    Just in time for Earth Day, Independence National Historic Park now has a bench that doubles as a weather and air quality station. The tricked out seating is made from recycled milk containers.  It sports solar panels and a wind turbine to power numerous scientific instruments.

    “We’re using this for R&D,” said Gayle Hagler, an engineer with EPA. “But also we’re collecting some data that could be used to understand air quality at a local community scale here at this corner of Philadelphia.”

    The new bench is a collaborative effort among the city of Philadelphia, the National Park Service, and EPA. The idea, said EPA Mid-Atlantic Region administrator Shawn Garvin, is to have passers-by interact with the bench and become more aware of air pollution, which is often less visible than contaminated land or water.

    “Air is sometimes a little bit more difficult for people to really wrap their head around,” Garvin said.

    With its sustainable approach to data collection, the park bench is meant to change that. It measures ozone and fine particle pollution, which are both hazardous to breathe. Hagler is also testing a new instrument that detects nitrogen dioxide.

    Sensors take readings every minute and post the information to a small screen next to the bench and to a website.

    Philadelphia is one of five cities partnering with EPA to pilot the bench for a year.

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