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Addressing air pollution hotspots – the role of community driven air monitoring


By Claudio Parrinello, CEO of PlanetWatch

Air pollution is one of the most significant threats to both our planet and population’s health and identifying sources of this pollution will be the key to counteracting its damaging effects. For instance, recent UK government data has shown that domestic combustion was a major source of emissions of particulate matter in 2020, which highlights the importance of understanding and reducing the impact of residential buildings in order to deliver environmental and health benefits.

In particular, this data calls attention to the fact that domestic wood burners account for 17% of the UK’s particulate matter emissions – by comparison road traffic is only responsible for 13%. Considering that 95% of the houses using these wood burners have other sources of heating, this data highlights the role individuals can play in tackling air pollution by choosing to reduce the unnecessary pollution around them. For us to empower individuals with the knowledge to offset the pollution around them, an accurate air monitoring system is crucial. Smarter air quality data can help facilitate smarter air pollution prevention.

Protecting our health

With 7 million deaths each year caused by poor air quality plus 9 in 10 people worldwide living in places where air pollution is above the WHO’s guidance, the urgency of tackling air pollution to protect our population’s health is clear and this is an issue in which everyone has a stake.

To truly fight the sources of the global air pollution we face, accurate air quality data is essential. An air monitoring system which can pinpoint specific areas of high pollution is essential to drive change. Yet, as this recent UK government data shows, it is not just outdoor air quality which matters.

The importance of monitoring and improving outdoor air quality is already evident with 4.2 million deaths each year attributable to exposure to outdoor pollution. However, we must not forget the importance of monitoring the air we breathe indoors. In fact, the pandemic has heightened the relevance of indoor air quality with people spending, on average, 90% of their time indoors. Equally, indoor air quality is a matter of health with 3.8 million deaths each year caused by household exposure to smoke from dirty cookstoves. Research revealing domestic combustion as one of UK’s main air pollution causes is an important reminder of the need to utilise air quality data to improve both indoor and outdoor air quality.

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Filling the data gaps

If we consider that an estimated 800 lives were saved across Europe during the first lockdown alone due to better air quality, it becomes obvious why improving air quality is so critical. But first we must have accurate data to inform effective policies aimed at counteracting air pollution’s dreadful effects.

Traditional air monitoring methods rely on a scarce distribution of sensors that can only provide an approximation of local data. In its turn, adopting a community-driven approach to air monitoring can deliver increasingly reliable air quality insights which can detect precise areas of high pollution and fill in current data gaps.

The PlanetWatch system allows private individuals to monitor the air around them by using our air quality sensors. These ‘PlanetWatchers’ will then stream their air quality data onto a highly secure ledger backed cloud platform which receives, validates, and collates the information. This framework enables the provision of real-time and hyperlocal data which gives local authorities and communities access to the information needed to enact more effective policies – such as traffic reduction schemes or emission taxes.

The power of citizen science

A community-driven approach to air monitoring empowers citizens to contribute real solutions to our planet’s biggest issues. Despite the fact that 64% of people worldwide see climate change as a global emergency, many people feel it is too large of an issue for them to make a difference. However, with 65% of Americans thinking government is not doing enough to address climate change, people seem to want to take charge of their planet.

By encouraging citizens to monitor the very air they breathe, PlanetWatch is able to offer people a chance to engage in wider environmental efforts merely by crowdsourcing air quality data. This is an example of citizen science at its very best, through which better data can be gathered and better results can be achieved for our planet and for our health.

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