Street Air on Earth Day

In 2018, we were the proud recipients of APA’s 2018 National Planning Achievement Award for a Grassroots Initiative — Gold for our Street Air Project, and its associated award-winning film Columbus Discovers Air Pollution.

After studying the history of the street and how air pollution is measured, we learned about the possible impacts of air pollutants on the human body. With curiosity and concern, we decided to measure levels of air pollution along San Francisco’s popular Columbus Avenue, specifically near outdoor eating areas.

Our research found that if cities chose to make simple design changes to pedestrian areas (or as we say, to the street-edge), the area’s outdoor eating experience could be notably safer as well as more enjoyable.

Having garnered significant results from our research as well as success from our Street Air group, we intend to continue working with the city throughout the Columbus Avenue redesign and plan to help other cities who reach out to us, seeking design suggestions for their new projects.

“Because problems require solutions” has been our group’s mission from the very beginning,” said Zelda Zivny, one of Street Air’s co-founders. “Our primary goal has been to use science to quantify various city issues and to seek solutions. It isn’t enough for us to spot a problem and then leave it for others to deal with.”

Our recently completed film, Airgregates, the Impact of Concrete Mixing Facilities on the Bay View Community,” has been selected as a finalist in the upcoming Clear the Air Film Fest sponsored by Breathe CA and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.

According to Charlie Millenbah, Street Air co-founder and director of the film, “Bay View is a community suffering from exposure to significant amounts of air pollution. [The pollution levels are listed] on the city’s official maps, but when we called the local government, they couldn’t tell us what was causing the pollution. We surveyed the area and found that all the concrete used in San Francisco comes from three mixing facilities on Pier 92. We [decided to take] measurements to see how Pier 92 might fit into the overall pollution problem in Bay View.”

“It was a very tough environment to work in. The pollution levels were high and all of us working at the site felt ill at least once — and of course all of the trucks made for a dangerous situation,” according to Milo Wetherall, co-founder of Street Air and a member of the film team. “Compared to this scene, the Columbus Avenue project was very tame. But there is much more to study in Bay View and we hope to do a follow-up film on our subsequent findings.”

EPA Honors Street Air

On April 9, 2019, the US Environmental Protection Agency gave "Outstanding Achievement in Environmental Protection Services" awards to Zelda Zivny, Charlie Millenbah, and Milo Wetherall as a part of the agency's Presidential Environmental Youth Awards program. The award was for their long-term air pollution science project called "Street Air.”

Street Air is expanding by bringing on more students with ideas for projects they’d like to pursue. PM 1 monitors have been recently donated by local North Beach families and we have started some of the first street-edge PM 1 measurements in California.

PM 1 is incredibly dangerous. It’s a particle small enough to absorb directly into the bloodstream once inhaled and is present throughout PM 2.5 particles. Consequently, we are measuring PM 1 near sensitive populations such as senior housing and early education centers. We also have several other communities in San Francisco where we have found a correlation of high PM rates with high hospitalization rates for several diseases. Our goal is to find what is causing such high PM rates in those places.

We are so indebted to how kind and helpful many local and state-wide planners have been.

Fay Darmawi, an affordable housing consultant, and founder of the San Francisco Urban Film Fest invited us to the film festival and involved us in a post-screening panel. On that panel was San Francisco urban designer and planner Robin Abad Ocubillo who was very generous and encouraging in his comments of our project. Naphtali Knox, a nationally distinguished (and retired) planner, who is active in the local APA chapter, has always been there with a big welcoming smile and kind encouragement for us at APA events.

As you all gather in our home city, know that you have some real fans out there rooting for you! We will see you all on the street.

Top image: Filmmakers Charlie Millenbah, Zelda Zivny, and Milo Wetherall at work. Screen capture from their award-winning film Columbus Discovers Air Pollution.


About the Authors

Zelda Zivny is enrolled at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo where she is majoring in environmental engineering. She is passionate about environmental and water resources and is a competitive swimmer with the CalPoly swim club.

Milo Wetherall is an 11th-grade student at the San Domenico School in San Anselmo, California. He has a strong interest in the sciences and enjoys his current Conceptual Physics class.

Charlie Millenbah is a 10th-grade student at Gateway High in San Francisco where, in addition to his air pollution studies, he is learning German and Czech and participating with the soccer and robotics teams.


April 22, 2019

By Charlie Millenbah, Milo Wetherall, Zelda Zivny