Community-Based Environmental Monitoring

Last week, ELAW partners from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), India, and the US gathered online to share strategies and tools for monitoring air quality to support community efforts to rein in polluting industries.

Emmanuel Umpula Nkumba and colleagues with African Resources Watch (AFREWATCH) described how communities in Kolwezi and Lubumbashi are suffering from pollution from nearby mines and mineral processing facilities.

These gigantic open-pit mines pump out numerous contaminants: acid and other runoff pollute local rivers and groundwater; dust and air pollution blanket the area; mounds of mining waste are piled across the landscape; and local communities complain of numerous health impacts.

Shweta Naryan of Community Environmental Monitoring and Healthy Energy Initiative India, and Pooja Kumar of The Coastal Resource Centre and Healthy Energy Initiative India described their experiences supporting communities in India to hold polluters accountable through community-based environmental monitoring. Shweta explained how learning about a community’s experiences helps determine the scope of environmental monitoring that follows.

Shweta and Pooja shared links to their recent guidebook: Tools for Community Environmental Monitoring, and detailed one example where the tools have been applied: Report on the Environmental Sampling around the Coal Mines, Thermal Power Plants and Ash Ponds in Tamnar & Gharghoda Blocks of Raigarh, Chhattisgarh.

ELAW Staff Scientist Dr. Rye Howard explained the uses of a cheap and portable, microcontroller and sensor-based air quality monitor that they built and used while working in Dhaka, Bangladesh.


Rye showed how this instrument performed similarly to an official air quality monitoring station but at a fraction of the cost, and is easily deployed and utilized by community members. ELAW offered to assemble and send a portable, microcontroller- and sensor-based air quality monitor to AFREWATCH to help them characterize PM2.5 levels in mining-impacted communities.

Pooja shared more air sampling technologies and offered to train AFREWATCH staff how to use them.

AFREWATCH is hoping to spread information about air pollution in communities near mining operations in Kolwezi and Lubumbashi, to influence government authorities and encourage the foreign companies that own and operate the mining facilities to improve their practices. Emmanuel and his colleagues were pleased to receive support through the ELAW network for air sampling technologies and guidance setting up monitoring systems that will help mining-impacted communities protect their health and the local environment.