The science behind air pollution in urban areas is clear: smog has been linked to premature deaths, increased asthma attacks and breathing problems, and increased hospital visits. But most of us have no way of knowing about the pollutants that we’re exposed to on a daily basis. Expressways, waste facilities and dry cleaners create highly localized pollution that may not be detected by the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) regional air monitoring data. Larger-scale air monitoring isn’t designed to capture such traditional pollution sources, nor does it record local effects of unconventional emissions sources associated with oil and gas development. We have no real way to know when our local air pollution hits dangerous levels, and no way to avoid hazardous air in our communities.
Michael Heimbinder, a Brooklyn entrepreneur, hopes to empower individuals with his small-scale air quality monitoring system, AirCasting. The AirCasting system uses a mobile, Bluetooth-enabled air monitor not much larger than a smartphone to measure carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, particulate matter and other pollutants. An accompanying Android app records and formats the information to an emissions map.
Alternatively, another instrument, the Air Quality Egg, comes pre-assembled ready to use. Innovative air monitoring systems, such as AirCasting or the Air Quality Egg, empower ordinary citizens to monitor the pollution they encounter daily and proactively address problematic sources of pollution.
This technology is part of a growing movement to enable the use of small sensors. In response to inquiries about small-sensor data, the EPA is researching the next generation of air measuring technologies. EPA experts are working with sensor developers to evaluate data quality and understand useful sensor applications. Through this ongoing collaboration, the EPA hopes to bolster measurements from conventional, stationary air-monitoring systems with data collected from individuals’ air quality microsensors.
Like many technologies emerging from the big data revolution and innovations in the energy sector, microsensing technology provides a wealth of high-quality data at a relatively low cost. It allows us to track previously undetected air pollution from traditional sources of urban smog, such as highways, and unconventional sources of pollution. Microsensing technology not only educates the public, but also helps to enlighten regulators so that policymakers can work from the facts to protect citizens’ health and welfare.