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City Landmarks Light Touch Hey Parajito Simple Air
Community Voice Box Pilsen. Us vs. Them Time For Change Passing the Clean Power Ordinance
Winning Entries Pilsen Exhibit 2011 Clean Air Symposium 2011 Neocon Exhibit 2011

BREATHING BUDDY by Trish Vanderbeke & Pei-San NG

The act of breathing is something we don't typically spend too much time thinking about...until for some reason we can't do it properly. Yet breathing is absolutely essential to maintain life. We can go without eating food for 30 days. We can go without drinking water for 3 days. We can't go for much longer than 3 minutes without breathing air. Although we may not think about is consciously, our awareness of the importance of breathing permeates our language as illustrated by the common expressions: "I need a breath of fresh air", "The view from here is breathtaking", "You are so beautiful you take my breath away" or "Shhhh, don't breathe a word".

And, just as we need fresh food and clean water to nurture our bodies, our health is very much dependant on the quality of our air. Air is mainly composed of nitrogen (78.62%) and oxygen (20.84%). The remaining gases such as argon are often referred to as trace gases, among which are the greenhouse gases such as water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone. Unfiltered air may also include small amounts of natural substances such as dust, pollen and spores, sea spray, and volcanic ash. Various industrial pollutants also may be present, such as chlorine, fluorine, and sulfur compounds, as well as elemental mercury. Legislation such as the Clean Air Act which established National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) and required the phasing out of leaded gasoline has greatly improved air quality in the United States over the last 40 years yet it is estimated that as many as fifty thousand Americans annually die prematurely as a result of air pollution with perhaps the leading cause of air pollution related death being due to particulate matter - soot and dirt particles that cause respiratory failure.(1)

According the National Emissions Inventory prepared by the US EPA, coal burning power plants account for approximately 40% of all hazardous air pollutant emissions from point sources: more than any other point source category (2). "Hazardous air pollutants emitted to the atmosphere by coal-fired power plants can cause a wide range of adverse health effects including damage to eyes, skin, and breathing passages; negative effects on the kidneys, lungs, and nervous systems; the potential to cause cancer; impairment of neurological function and ability to learn; and pulmonary and cardiovascular disease." (3) Yet coal-fired plants like the Fisk plant in Chicago's Pilsen are located near residential areas, hospitals, and schools exposing area residents to hazardous conditions day and night all year round.

Breathing Buddy is a solar powered filtering device that would be placed on school playgrounds at varying distances from the plant to raise awareness of the damaging effects of breathing polluted air by providing a graphic illustration of the build up of soot and dirt in its filter. Budget permitting, control or comparison Buddies could also be placed inside classrooms and around the community and the resulting differences in the amount of matter collected made available to scientists as well as analyzed in classrooms as part of the process of educating everyone about the importance of the air we breathe. Schools at a distance from the plant might partner with schools nearby to help defray costs and gather data to further explore links between air quality, public health, and educational issues. But even one Breathing Buddy would play a valuable role in the struggle to make a largely invisible problem visible to the people who suffer most from it.

Made from a commercially available solar powered attic fan mounted to a clear plexiglas cylinder with an air filter representing lungs clearly visible inside, the Breathing Buddy will move or "breathe" 850 cubic feet per minute when the integral solar panel is exposed to sunlight. Based on calculations of the amount of air moved per day based on Chicago's average hours of sunlight and comparing it to the amount of air an average person "moves" or breathes every day, it is estimated that over the course of one school year a Breathing Buddy will filter as much air as a person's lungs will over the course of their lifetime (4).

Notes: 1. Paraphrased from the website of The Climate Institute <www.climate.org>. 2. Paraphrased from USEPA National Emissions Inventory 3. Quoted from "Emissions of Hazardous Air Pollultants from Coal-fired Power Plants", a 46 page report written by Environmental Health and Engineering, Inc. for the American Lung Association 4. Assumptions gleaned from various sources are as follows. Solartube attic fan: 850 cfm in full sunlight; Chicago average amount of sunlight per day (over one year): 7 hours, school year: Sept. 1 to June 1; average amount of air in liters per minute breathed in (and out) by a man: 6Lm; woman: 4Lm, average: 5Lm. Average lifespan of a person: 72 years.


Breathing Buddy - Plan for implementation The Breathing Buddy can be fairly easily constructed using commercially available products. The main expense is a SolaTube solar powered attic fan http://www.solatube.com/residential/product-catalog/solar-star-attic-fans/index.php costs approx. $380 Air filter, plexi-glas enclosure, and metal frame of powder coated steel to be fabricated and assembled at a Chicago metal shop taking advantage of Chicago's deep pool of talent and knowledge.

Competitive bids would be taken and recycled materials used where possible. Estimated cost under $1000 per buddy. Increased volume would likely decrease costs. The Breathing Buddy can be strapped to an existing light pole or fastened to an existing exterior or interior wall using lag bolts through the back plate. Upon notification that the Breathing Buddy has been selected, the team would immediately begin contacting the Chicago Public Schools, the Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization, the American Lung Association, the Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago, and other concerned groups looking for sponsorship and input in refining the design and choosing the location(s) for installation.

Installation would take place at the start of the school year and a study guide would be prepared for the participating schools so that monitoring the Breathing Buddy becomes part of the curriculum engaging students on a variety of levels. Possilble programs include interviewing family members to chart respiratory illness, making a list of everyday phrases that use terms breathe and breath, or simply putting white paper on flat surfaces and observing how long it takes for them to accumulate particles. Awareness is the primary goal but a Breathing Buddy or two in the gynmasium would improve air quality with the possible result that some children who previously found it difficult to exercise due to respiratory issues might find their symptoms eased. Everyone needs a buddy. People who live near Fisk need Breathing Buddies. To monitor the air, clean a little bit of it, and tell their story to those who use the power generated by burning coal but don't directly live with the consequences.