As part of CRECE’s Project 1: Air Pollution Impacts on Neonatal and Early Childhood Development, the team is examining the impacts of air pollution on neonatal and early childhood development in Puerto Rico. Infants and children living in Puerto Rico are highly exposed to environmental pollution, yet these populations are understudied.
Studying the impacts of air pollution in these populations requires the installation of specialized “air monitors,” which can measure pollutant concentrations in the atmosphere in a given area. Using these devices, the CRECE team is measuring air pollution in three locations across the northern shore of the island: Manatí, Morovis, and Arecibo (see map to right).
The process of choosing a proper location for these air monitors required much thought about height, nearby obstacles, local air flow, site security, access to electricity, and weather events, among other factors. Using connections with local universities and health centers, Carmen Vélez Vega, Co-Leader of the CRECE Community Outreach and Translation Core, eventually found three ideal locations for the monitors: the backyard of the CRECE office/clinic in Manatí, the roof of Morovis Community Health Center, and the roof of the Universidad del Este in Arecibo.
These locations are especially fitting for CRECE because studying adverse health outcomes and air pollutant exposure requires measuring pollution where the air is similar to air that study participants breathe on a daily basis. Since the CRECE team is leveraging cohort data from the PROTECT Center, the team chose to place the monitors in towns close to where the study participants reside.
Each monitor box includes two cascade impactors which house the filters. Filters are sampled for one continuous week (beginning at midnight on Mondays). A timer in each box alternates the filters, starting and stopping the sampling precisely each week. This way, the technician only has to visit each site once a week to measure air flow, collect the sampled filter, and exchange it for a new one while the other sample is running. The team used Talento Software to write a program that controls the timers, which was subsequently loaded onto the timers using a Taxxi remote.
To date, CRECE has collected and analyzed over 100 filters across the three sites. These ongoing air monitoring efforts are possible thanks to research and project leadership from Dr. Helen Suh, training and technical support from Stephen T. Ferguson and Mike Wolfson, study and site coordination from Carmen Vélez Vega, Zaira Rosario-Pabón, Rafael Rios-McConnell and their team at the Universidad de Puerto Rico, and research and site support from Lindsay Tallon and Rose Martersteck. Additional thanks to the Morovis Community Health Center and Universidad del Este for providing air monitoring sites.
Special thanks to Rose Martersteck, Research Coordinator for CRECE Project 1, for drafting this piece.