WV bill threatens community air monitoring efforts

Nadia Ramlagan

After West Virginia House lawmakers advanced a bill to ban residents from using citizen air monitoring data in lawsuits, community groups said they are concerned the legislation could make it more difficult to hold polluting industries accountable.

Dani Parent, organizing director for the West Virginia Citizen Action Group, said her organization helps interested residents install Purple Air Quality Monitors in their neighborhoods. She explained the monitors mostly measure particulate matter, and some track volatile organic compounds; useful information for the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection in determining air quality.

“It allows us to look at patterns and see if maybe there is something worth investigating,” Parent explained. “When that happens, we get a hold of the DEP and the DEP gets to make the judgment call.”

House Bill 5018 would also prohibit state environmental regulators from issuing notices of violations or penalties based on data collected from community air monitors. Supporters of the bill argued local air monitors are not precise enough and only data collected by state agencies should be used in regulatory oversight.

Olive Miller, program director for the Highlands Conservancy, said the state’s current air-quality monitoring network only covers around a dozen of West Virginia’s 55 counties, and lacks monitors in some of the most highly polluted areas. She added families and communities have the right to take action to protect themselves from air pollution.

“Our legislators should encourage the use of citizen air monitoring to supplement data gathered by government agencies,” Miller contended. “Especially if it conforms with existing EPA standards.”

Scientific research suggests a strong link between exposure to air pollution and lung cancer. A 2023 American Lung Association report ranked West Virginia the second-worst state in the nation for new lung cancer cases, at around 76 per 100,000 people. The national rate is almost 55 per 100,000 people.