Particulate Concentration Levels in Chinatown, Oakland, California

Bai Yi Chen, Anna Yeung, and Jin Feng Yu

Chinatown is located near the center of the busy business district of downtown Oakland, California. It is one of the most inhabited and congested areas in the City of Oakland, averaging 4,000 vehicles and 3,000 pedestrians per hour at a key intersection in the center of the neighborhood. Particles produced by automobiles and construction can settle into the bronchi of lungs and induce asthma attacks, irritate cardiovascular tissue, and possibly lead to lung cancer and death. Particulate pollution is a serious problem that is estimated to cause between 20,000 and 50,000 deaths per year in the US alone. Hence, evaluation of the air quality of the Chinatown neighborhood is important, because it helps to address issues that are of great concern to residents of the area.

The primary goal of our project was to measure particulate concentration levels at various intersections in Oakland’s Chinatown to determine if the air quality met U.S. EPA standards, and to take note of any trends that may occur over a period of months. We were primarily concerned with particles that are 2.5 micrometers diameter and smaller, as smaller particles are easily inhaled and directly affect the respiratory system. We were interested in identifying any intersections that may have had significantly higher levels than other intersections. Using a map of Chinatown, we chose 12 intersections and made measurements at these points over the course of six months, beginning in February and ending in July of 2007. Particulate matter measurements were made using a FLUKE 893 Particle Counter. Measurements recorded on the first day of our study, February 4, 2007, which was the day of an annual street festival, yielded the highest values for particulate matter concentration in our dataset. This was followed by a significant drop in concentration the following week, and then a gradual increase of concentration as the months progressed. No one location yielded values significantly higher than any other, and, except for the first and last day (where there was experimental error), recorded values seem to meet EPA standards. We conclude that the high particulate matter levels we observed were due to heavy crowding and traffic jams near street corners during the time of the festival. We also conclude that particulate pollution levels in the Chinatown neighborhood are generally acceptable, except during festivities that generate heavy congestion. We intend conduct further investigations, particularly at next year’s street festival, to confirm observations made thus far.

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