Breath of Change: Empowering Curtis Bay with Hyperlocal Air Monitoring and Community-Driven Solutions

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In the heart of South Baltimore, Curtis Bay stands as a poignant example of a community rallying for environmental justice. The recent article, “Community-driven research and capacity building to address environmental justice concerns with industrial air pollution in Curtis Bay, South Baltimore,” provides a deep dive into the empowering journey of local organizations and residents as they collaborate with academic researchers to tackle air pollution through hyperlocal monitoring and community capacity building. This blog aims to distill the essence of their groundbreaking work, demonstrating the power of unity, science, and persistent advocacy.

Understanding the Battle Ground of Curtis Bay

Curtis Bay, an area laden with industrial pollutants and a history of health and socioeconomic burdens, has long been considered a “human sacrifice zone.” The presence of heavy diesel traffic, waste-to-energy incinerators, and the open-air CSX Coal Terminal contributes to the community’s air quality concerns. The term “environmental justice” in this context embodies the community’s fight for equitable environmental protection and a healthier, more productive living environment.

Image of Davison Chemical Company, Curtis Bay Works, Baltimore from The Book of Maryland: Men and Institutions, 1920, page 337: From Wikicommons

The Community’s Response: A Hyperlocal Approach

In a spirited response to the environmental justice issues, local organizations like the Community of Curtis Bay Association and South Baltimore Community Land Trust have partnered with academic institutions to develop a community-driven hyperlocal air monitoring network. This innovative approach involves deploying low-cost sensors throughout residential and industrial areas to collect real-time data on air pollutants like particulate matter, black carbon, and ground-level gas species. This data serves not just to understand air quality trends but also to empower the community with information to advocate for regulatory changes.

Educating the Next Generation: The Role of High School Students

An integral part of this community-academic partnership involves educating local high school students about environmental justice issues and involving them in the scientific process. Through courses on environmental justice, students learn to employ both qualitative and quantitative methods to support community concerns. This education is not just about imparting knowledge; it’s about fostering a new generation of environmental justice leaders.

The Path Forward: Reflecting and Scaling Up

As the community-driven approach continues to evolve, it serves as a beacon for other communities facing similar challenges. The Curtis Bay initiative emphasizes the importance of listening to residents, honoring their experiences, and integrating their insights into every research phase. By doing so, it champions a model of scientific research that is both inclusive and impactful.

The Bigger Picture: Implications for Public Health Practitioners

For public health practitioners, the Curtis Bay case study is a call to action. It demonstrates the importance of community-driven research in addressing environmental health issues. Practitioners are encouraged to support similar initiatives, leverage community knowledge, and advocate for policies that reflect the on-the-ground realities of environmental justice communities.


The journey of Curtis Bay residents and their partners is an inspiring tale of resilience, innovation, and collaboration. It’s a reminder that when communities are empowered with the right tools and knowledge, they can drive significant change. This initiative not only improves the air quality in Curtis Bay but also lights the way for other communities to follow.

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