Common Humanity Collective DIY air purifier effort advances as wildfire season continues

Photo of the campanile during wildfire season with orange sky
Josh Kahen/File
Initiated near the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Common Humanity Collective launched its latest project to produce free DIY air purifiers to aid low-income communities during wildfire season.

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As West Coast forests and neighborhoods burn constantly with violent wildfires, people living in high-exposure areas are scrambling to clear their smoke- and ash-ridden homes. To help aid low-income communities with this project, Common Humanity Collective, or CHC, launched its latest project to produce free DIY air purifiers.

The collective was initiated near the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic by UC Berkeley graduate student Abrar Abidi and campus research assistant Yvonne Hao, and continues to meet every other Saturday to assemble air purifiers, according to a Berkeley News article. The group usually operates with roughly 70 volunteers at an Emeryville parking lot on Doyle Street, the article adds.

“Last year the wildfires were so extreme that we had orange skies in the Bay Area. Tens of thousands of people were stuck inside houses poorly insulated from the outdoors, coughing poisonous smoke,” Abidi said in an email. “Many of these people literally can’t afford air purifiers to make the insides of their homes breathable…We started building purifiers to address these basic survival needs during this year’s wildfire season.”

The collective has produced and given more than 1,000 air purifiers in total to low-income residential neighborhoods with both high air quality index readings and high asthma rates, according to the CHC website.

The CHC is currently collaborating with several local partner organizations, such as the Industrial Workers of the World, Sunrise Movement Bay Area, East Bay Democratic Socialists of America, Mask Oakland and more. Sign-ups for volunteers are available via Google Forms on the collective’s website.

“Our structure is largely horizonatalist and it is exquisitely easy to become an organizer,” Abidi said in an email. “You simply show up to our regular organizing meetings, and then you have as much of a say as any of us to help steer the direction of the project.”

Several individual volunteers joined the grassroots effort after receiving a free air purifier themselves. Miguel Simpson, a CHC volunteer and Oakland resident, became a volunteer shortly after discovering the dozens of free air purifiers being distributed on a recent Sunday.

“I felt, wow! I live in a hotel and have to keep my window open for air, and smoke was coming in,” Simpson said in a Berkeley News article. “(CHC volunteers) said, ‘Come on down, help us out, and get as many (purifiers) as you want. Spread them out to other people. I said, ‘That’s cool.’ ”

CHC’s DIY air purifier costs about $35 to construct and can be assembled quickly, according to its website. Written instructions, videos and photos to help build the air purifiers are also available on the collective’s website.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the CHC has also produced 7,000 gallons of hand sanitizer as well as designed, built and distributed nearly 60,000 free submicron face masks, the collective website notes.

CHC has increased in size and significance since its creation.

“Our group is larger and more energetic, with a much more defined set of political ambitions,” Abidi said in an email. “Over 250 people participated in the purifier project, which began in late summer. It is almost certainly the largest mutual aid effort of its sort in the Bay Area.”

Contact Phoebe Chen at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @ph0ebechen.