Chattanooga shares in Smart 50 award for air quality initiative

Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / The rising run illuminates the underside of the Market Street Bridge, as the 105 year-old span carries the morning traffic in August 2022. At right, stands the Tennessee Aquarium that fueled the riverfront's rebirth when it opened in 1992.

Chattanooga was one of five U.S. cities to earn a 2023 Smart 50 Award for developing infrastructure to provide neighborhood-level air quality data and increase public understanding of its effects.

Each year, the Smart 50 Awards, in partnership with Smart Cities Connect and Smart Cities Connect Foundation, recognize city projects, honoring the most impactful and influential community work. The Smart Community Air Quality Monitoring Collaborative included Chattanooga, Cleveland, Ohio; Kansas City, Salt Lake City and the Pioneer Valley in Western Massachusetts. Local collaborators include The Enterprise Center, the City of Chattanooga, UTC, Hamilton County Schools and EPB.

Since late 2020, representatives from these five communities — funded by a $125,000 pilot investment from US Ignite and the National Science Foundation — have worked collaboratively to address health disparities that arise in neighborhoods that experience higher rates of poor air quality, building local sensor networks to measure fine particulate matter (or PM2.5) in the air. These fine particles are small enough to irritate the respiratory system, cause short-term health effects and can have an exacerbating impact on illnesses like asthma.

"US Ignite works with communities around the country to ensure that emerging technologies can help solve the most pressing civic challenges, and to improve the quality of life for our neighbors everywhere," Dr. Glenn Ricart, founder and chief technology officer of US Ignite, said in a statement. "It's exciting to see not only this important work around air quality within communities recognized at Smart Cities Connect, but also the ongoing collaborations among them."

Poor air quality and household air pollution exposure leads to diseases including stroke, heart disease and lung cancer. Even in communities like Chattanooga, where the average air quality is in attainment with EPA's current PM2.5 standards, conditions can still vary drastically from day to day and technologies like low-cost, simple sensors can provide vital information to individuals and healthcare professionals.

"Environmental improvement has been a cornerstone of the city's growth and its commitment to residents," said Deb Socia, CEO of The Enterprise Center – a nonprofit that works with city officials, local neighborhoods, and healthcare and research institutions to leverage Smart City technology to expand access and improve health outcomes. "However, since several Chattanooga-area zip codes still routinely rank at the bottom statewide for asthma, other chronic illnesses and hospital utilization, developing data and a more granular understanding of air quality within impacted communities continues to be a high priority."

— Compiled by Dave Flessner