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Energy & Environment

Rhinelander church installs air monitor to track impacts of climate change

Ben Meyer
The Purple Air Monitor, about the size of a baseball, at First Congregational United Church of Christ in Rhinelander.

If you didn’t know to look for it, you’d probably miss the small sensor on the outside First Congregational United Church of Christ in Rhinelander.

But the little device is the church’s way of educating and informing the public about the impact of climate change on the Northwoods.

Every ten minutes, a round sensor the size of a baseball takes a sample of the air.

Ben Meyer/WXPR
The Climate Team at the church was responsible for researching and installing the Purple Air Monitor.

It measures smoke, dust, and other particulate matter in the air, transmitting the information instantly to a public website.

Church member Merlin Van Buren helped with the planning and installation of the unit, called a Purple Air Monitor.

“It really happened due to last summer with all of the wildfires that were happening out west. We really didn’t have any way to know what kind of effect it was having on us up here, how the air quality up here was being affected,” Van Buren said. “That’s important for people that have asthma or COPD or are runners and the smoke is really heavy that day. Maybe you don’t want to run outside that day.”

Van Buren is a member of the church’s Climate Team, a loose group of people dedicated to information and action regarding climate change.

The Northwoods, he reminds people, isn’t immune to the effects of climate change.

“It’s an easy way to educate people that things that happen in other parts of this country, like wildfires out west, do affect us here in the Northwoods,” he said.

People can now log onto a website and view Rhinelander’s air quality at any time by following this link.

Before the device at the church was installed, the closest Purple Air Monitor was in Wausau.

Van Buren hopes the project will inspire people to learn about the effects of climate change on the Northwoods and to take action.

“Climate change is real. Climate change is happening. We have to work together, really, to solve this problem,” he said.