Greenpoint residents might soon be transformed into scientific researchers just by putting on a necklace.
A technologically minded activist has created an air-pollution detector that he hopes to get locals to wear around their necks in order to create a far-reaching, real-time picture of the toxins floating above the polluted neighborhood.
“This allows the community to get involved and do research,” said Michael Heimbinder, a member of the Newtown Creek Alliance and founder of HabitatMap, which builds tools for community organizing around environmental issues. “It will amplify their voices and the importance of the data they are collecting.”
The tool, called Air Casting Greenpoint, is a piece of blue-plastic bling that sniffs the air several times a second and sends the results to an Android phone, which then analyzes the data and sends them to an online database. Taken together, the data can create snapshot and minute-to-minute heat maps of air pollution. Seeing the results will make participants feel like the effort is worth it, Heimbinder said.
“You can be walking along, and every second, you can see yourself on the map,” he said. “It is empowering.”
The project is still in its infancy, and Heimbinder is angling for $235,000 of the Big Oil court settlement stemming from the Greenpoint oil spill that was three times the size of the Exxon Valdez disaster. The corporate money in the Greenpoint Community Environmental Fund is entering its third round of disbursements, which are voted on by locals.
If the project gets funded, Heimbinder hopes to recruit about 240 volunteers. The goal of getting so many people involved is to build support for clearing the air in the neighborhood that is home to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, waste-transfer facilities, and Newtown Creek.
“It will make them more willing to push for policies that will clean up air in Greenpoint,” he said.
Heimbinder has already recruited a few helpers to head up the project if he does raise the money.
“It will be inspiring to be able to take some of those issues on a smaller scale and understand them better,” said Willis Elkins, Newtown Creek Alliance project manager.
Another neighborhood activist is also excited about the project.
“This hands-on version will help will public awareness of the issue,” said Jenny Romer, who lives in Greenpoint. “It will be a conversation starter.”