Public Lab Wiki documentation

Bodily Sense Environmental Data Methods

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photo credit Stevie Lewis and Mathew Lippincott

Body Sensory Environmental Data Collection Methods

Can our five bodily senses be used to collect environmental data? Would that data be recognized by environmental agencies, good-neighbor industries, planning departments, or in legal proceedings?

In community science, access to tools is often a limiting factor. There is no more accessible tool than a person's own bodily sense!

Here I want us (yes, us!) to gather a list of regulations or environmental criteria that utilize bodily senses in their designation (for example, there are criteria for the color of water discharged into natural waterways). Below that, I'd like us to list, and hopefully provide hyperlinks to, official methods that are based on bodily senses. Hopefully we can build advocacy training modules related to using these methods too!

Lists of known regulations or criteria pertaining to bodily sensory data

  • visible emissions based on opacity

  • water turbidity (water clarity)

  • discharged water color

  • stream water color

Smell (and Flavor)
Taste (be careful as this would only refer to the basic tastes of sweetness, saltiness, sourness, bitterness, and umami!)
  • ?
  • noise nuisance laws (industrial facilities often have to comply with a local permit that specify noise limits or time-of-day limits).

Official Methods using Bodily Senses

  • Visual Emissions Opacity Evaluations

EPA Method 9 enables a certified observer (who can be anyone) to observe emissions from smoke stacks, or fugitive emissions from a source such as a dusty road, to evaluate whether or not the emission is too opaque (not transparent enough). EPA Method 22 is essentially the same as Method 9, but the observer does not have to be certified. EPA Method 22 does not warrant an enforcement response, but EPA Method 9 does. Both EPA Method 9 and 22 require quite a bit of ancillary information to support the visual evaluation though, including environmental conditions like wind speed and direction, and observational conditions, such as distance from the source.

  • Digital Camera Opacity Technique

The Digital Camera Opacity Technique, ASTM D7520, has also been recognized as EPA alternative method 82. This technique is based on EPA Method 9, but includes an observer taking pictures rather than recording their own observations of opacity, and then using computer software to analyze the emissions opacity. So, it's not exactly a bodily sense technique, but is similar enough to EPA Method 9 and 22 that I figured it could be useful to include in this list.

Taste (be careful!)