NEW YORK STATE (WETM) – After 28 counties in New York lacked real-time coverage for smoke days during this past summer’s wildfires, a Cornell researcher is leading the initiative to install air-quality sensors throughout the state.

Wildfire smoke can be deadly, and up until recently, 28 of New York’s 62 counties did not have the proper tools to gather data about their air quality.

“Smoke and population health was a concern, and we found that 28 of New York’s 62 counties did not have a single air-quality sensor able to detect fine particulate matter of at least 2.5 microns (PM2.5), which is the main component of wildfire smoke.” said Alistair Hayden, Assistant Professor of Practice in the Department of Public and Ecosystem Health.

With the installation of the air-quality sensors, state and federal agencies will be able to observe smoke plumes in real time, collect data and issue precise and timely alerts to the public. The new access to accurate data will inform local public health prevention-and-response actions, such as school closings, camp warnings and public service messages.

Cornell Cooperative Extension and the New York State Association for County Health Organization have helped install the PurpleAir Flex air-quality sensors that were purchased for the project and linked them to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Fire and Smoke Map. This allows officials in the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the New York State Department of Health, policymakers, researchers and the public to access air-quality data in real-time for more communities in the state.

Up until this initiative started, the following counties in the state lacked air-quality sensors: Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chemung, Chenango, Clinton, Columbia, Delaware, Franklin, Fulton, Genesee, Herkimer, Jefferson, Livingston, Madison, Montgomery, Orleans, Oswego, Otsego, Saratoga, Schenectady, Schoharie, Schuyler, Seneca, Tioga, Washington, Wayne, Wyoming and Yates.

“The next time we have wildfires and smoke – and it will happen again – all of us will be very glad that these sensors are in place,” said Keith Tidball, assistant director of CCE. “Now, we’ll get more localized, tangible, complete and readily accessible information.”

As of late October, the initiative is almost finished. The Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability provided rapid-response funding for this project.