Air pollution is one of the most pressing challenges the world currently faces, with 99% of the world’s population breathing in unsafe air. The World Health Organization estimates that the combined effects of air pollution, both outdoor and indoor, are the cause of roughly 7 million premature deaths annually worldwide.
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Fine particles enter the air from a wide range of sources, such as energy production, industry, transport, agriculture, waste, forest fires, and households, causing air pollution. These particles linger in the air for long periods and can be transported long distances. Particles that measure less than 2.5 μm in diameter are particularly concerning for public and environmental health. Greenhouse gas pollutants also significantly contribute to air pollution. There is a vast body of research that connects exposure to air pollution (both short-term and long-term) with adverse health outcomes.
It is well known that exposure to air pollution increases the risk of many diseases, including respiratory illnesses, cardiovascular illnesses, neurovascular diseases, and cancer (including lung cancer).
It is also recognized that air pollution can exacerbate the symptoms of those who are already ill. It is estimated that around one-third of deaths caused by stroke, heart disease, and lung cancer are due to air pollution exposure. In Europe, air pollution is the single largest environmental health risk and is one of the greatest causes of premature death and disease.
Increasing evidence reveals the link between air pollution and health outcomes for babies. Studies have shown that exposure to high levels of air pollution may reduce lung function development. Research has discovered that air pollution particles are present in babies’ lungs as early as the first trimester. Air pollution has also been linked to an increased risk of preterm birth and low birth weight.
Air pollution has also been linked to an increased risk of mental illness. There is growing evidence to support the link between exposure to air pollution and mental health problems such as depression and anxiety. Research has also exposed a link between air pollution and psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia.
Unfortunately, almost every inhabitant (99% of the global population) is exposed to air that contains pollutants that exceed what is deemed safe by WHO. Therefore, it is essential to monitor air pollution to help fight it. Monitoring levels of air pollution is vital to understanding its role in influencing human health. It also highlights regions that are most intensely plagued by dangerous air pollutants. Furthermore, it can give insight into how initiatives to reduce air pollution are working, which is important for guiding future initiatives and maximizing their efficacy.
Aclima, a US-based technology company that seeks to protect public health, reduce emissions, and deliver clean air, has established the world’s most advanced air measurement and analysis platform to monitor air pollution. Its technology, which leverages hyperlocal data, is an important tool for fighting against air pollution.
Hyperlocal Air Pollution Monitoring in Emissions Reduction
Aclima has developed market-leading air pollution monitoring technology that maps and analyzes air pollution and greenhouse gases unprecedentedly.
Aclima’s solution is based on a complex network of sensors, both stationary and roving, that collects fine-grain information on the nature of air pollution in different neighborhoods. The technology gathers pollutant measurements with block-by-block resolution, helping to highlight air pollution disparities and identify areas most in need of intervention.
Specialized sensors are employed to collect measurements each second, either from stationary locations or on the move from the global mapping fleet. Routing software ensures that data collected from these sensors is scientifically robust. Community members are hired into full-time paid positions to run and maintain the network so that this fine-grain data can be collected around the clock.
As a result, Aclima’s solution allows us to understand air pollution at the human scale. Its innovative network of sensors provides as much as 100,000x greater resolution information collected by traditional air pollution monitoring platforms. The solution is also able to track multiple pollutants simultaneously using chemical fingerprinting. This technology makes it the only platform to simultaneously measure and analyze air pollution, greenhouse gases, and toxins.
Aclima’s sensor technology allows air pollution information to be gathered from urban, suburban, and rural landscapes, offering a solution that works for all geographic types. With the widespread adoption of the platform, entire cities/states/regions, and even countries could pool together their information to understand air pollution at an unprecedented level.
Notably, the platform developed by Aclima answers essential questions about air pollution at the level of the neighborhood block. In doing so, it gives decision-makers critical insights as to where air pollution is at its most dangerous and when. It also highlights who is at the most risk. This information may reveal that air pollution is particularly high at times when people are commuting to work. If there are congested roads that pass by schools, this could mean that young children are being exposed to dangerous levels of air pollution on their walk to school. Having real data to expose these dangers is important to influencing decision-makers to make critical changes, such as pedestrianization, that could improve the health outcomes of those at risk.
For example, Aclima has already been used to expose air disparities in the Bay Area, which may lead to positive change to reduce air pollution in key areas.
Sensors for Tackling Air Pollution
The technology offered by Aclima is important in tackling air pollution on a large scale by collecting hyperlocal data. Policymakers need to see real data on air pollution to make changes.
Sensor technology can expose areas at the level of the block that are particularly at risk of air pollution and can even reveal the times of day when air pollution is at its worse. This enables experts to understand the contributing factors of air pollution, such as rush hour traffic, and protect those most at risk, such as young children whose schools are close to congested areas.
In the future, we will likely see sensor technology more widely adopted so that air pollution can be better monitored, allowing for interventions to be better designed. Other global experts in sensor technology will likely improve on the currently available technology so that it is even more fine-grain and actionable. Overall, sensor technology will likely play a key role in emissions reduction.
References and Further Reading
Air pollution [online]. World Health Organization. Available at: https://www.who.int/health-topics/air-pollution (Last accessed January 2023).
Air pollution [online]. European Environmental Agency. Available at: https://www.eea.europa.eu/themes/air (Last accessed January 2023).
Ali, N.A. and Khoja, A. (2019) Growing evidence for the impact of air pollution on depression. Ochsner Journal, 19(1), pp. 4–4. Available at: https://doi.org/10.31486/toj.19.0011
Babies have air pollution in their lungs and brains before they take their first breath [online]. The University of Aberdeen. Available at: https://www.abdn.ac.uk/news/16424/ (Last accessed January 2023).
How air pollution is destroying our health [online]. World Health Organization. Available at: https://www.who.int/news-room/spotlight/how-air-pollution-is-destroying-our-health (Last accessed January 2023).
Measuring air, everywhere [online]. Aclima. Available at: https://www.aclima.io/ (Last accessed January 2023).
Newbury, J.B. et al. (2021) Association between Air Pollution Exposure and mental health service use among individuals with first presentations of psychotic and mood disorders: Retrospective cohort study. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 219(6), pp. 678–685. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1192/bjp.2021.119
Zhao, Q. et al. (2021) Air pollution during infancy and lung function development into adolescence: The GINIPLUS/Lisa Birth cohorts study. Environment International, 146, p. 106195. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envint.2020.106195
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