Consider this a rare case where environmentalists want you to see the pollution in the air.
A group of local and national companies is sponsoring an art installation in downtown Raleigh known as “Particle Falls,” which measures the surrounding air quality and spits an illustration of it onto a nearby wall.
The goal is to make the often-invisible air pollutants emitted by vehicles, such as carbon monoxide, visible to those who might be harmed by it, said Emily Skor, CEO of Growth Energy, a sponsor of the event.
“Sometimes, it takes real creativity to bring these issues to life, but when you can make invisible pollution visible, it helps consumers understand how everyday decisions make a real impact on the health and wellness of our local communities,” Skor said.
Passers-by can view Particle Falls for free at the corner of Hargett and Wilmington streets in downtown Raleigh until April 23.
The more pollution, the bigger the specks. They can sometimes expand into a fireball.
Andrea Polli, the artist and scientist who developed the nephelometer
The instrument that translates the pollution data and generates a corresponding image is known as a “nephelometer” and is mounted on the façade of the Sitti Lebanese restaurant. From there, it projects a blue, waterfall-like image onto the back of the NewBridge Bank building on the corner of Fayetteville and Hargett streets.
When the instrument detects toxic emissions, it sprinkles in bright, warm-colored dots into the blue waterfall.
“The more pollution, the bigger the specks,” said Andrea Polli, the artist and scientist who developed the nephelometer. Depending on the pollutant, “they can sometimes expand into a fireball.”
Particle Falls debuted in San Jose, Calif., in 2009 and has visited Charlotte, Pittsburgh and Paris, among other cities.
Organizers say Raleigh is the 142nd most polluted city in the United States and has cleaner air than the average city. However, its downtown atmosphere is at risk as the city grows, because rows of tall buildings can entrap pollutants emitted by vehicles.
The city government is sponsoring the art in collaboration with Empire Properties, the N.C. Department of Transportation, Novozymes biotechnologies, ethanol advocates Growth Energy, video game maker Foursaken Media, Clean Air Carolina and the Clean Energy Technology Center at N.C. State University.
“A guy was vaping right below it the other night, and it was going crazy,” said Heather Bruntz, a clean transportation specialist for the university.
In the coming weekends, environmental advocates plan to hang out at the Hargett-Wilmington intersection to hand out educational materials and talk about air pollution.
Organizers are also planning a bike tour on April 22 (Earth Day) known as “Botany by bicycle” to start in Moore Square at 5 p.m. and end by riding past Particle Falls. For information, go to extraterrestrialprojects.com/botanybybicycle/.