Beyond the Bench

Remember that old saying: “Things aren’t always what they seem.”

It’s especially true when you’re talking about the bench in front of the Durham County South Regional Library near Research Triangle Park.

As you can see from the photo, the bench is very much a bench. But it turns out, that particular bench is also part of a project sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to test what you could call next-generation air monitoring stations.

It’s called the Village Green Project. And, you guessed it, the bench is an air monitoring station that measures two common air pollutants — ozone and particulate pollutants — as well as weather conditions. Hidden inside the bench are air quality and weather instruments, a miniature computer processor, and wireless communications equipment. The system runs on solar and wind power.

The idea is to offer communities a new way to monitor air quality in areas where pollution might be a concern. It’s also a way to get science out into the public and into the schools. Data from the “weather-bench” can be accessed using onsite displays and a website.

The Durham bench worked well for the agency because it is near the EPA labs in Research Triangle Park. But after an initial testing period, the EPA started looking for state and local partners to host additional benches.

By the end of 2015, the EPA installed additional benches at The National Zoo in Washington, DC; Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia; a Kansas City library and locations in Oklahoma City, Hartford, and Chicago.

I think I’ll pull up a bench and think about all that.

— Frank Graff

Frank Graff is a producer/reporter with UNC-TV, focusing on North Carolina Science Now, a weekly science series that airs Wednesdays, beginning in August 2013, as part of North Carolina Now on UNC-TV. In addition to producing these special segments, Frank will provide additional information related to his stories through this North Carolina Science Now Reporter's Blog!

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