A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association has found that long-term exposure to poor air quality can have the same damaging effect as smoking 20 cigarettes a day, with air pollution shown to be more dangerous than passive smoking.
Many employees are exposed to poor air quality on a regular basis and employers are often unaware of the risks and what they can do to manage them. A new generation of air quality monitoring equipment is now available for measuring the levels of common air pollutants in the immediate areas where staff are working.
Employees working close to areas of high road traffic, particularly with poor air circulation, are especially vulnerable to the effects of pollution. As well as being trapped indoors or brought in through ventilation systems, pollutants can also build up in outdoor spaces, particularly in cities with high buildings, leading to exposure levels which may exceed limits set by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Diesel fumes were classified as a Class 1 Carcinogen by the WHO in 2017, after it found that people exposed to diesel fumes at work were up to 40% more likely to develop cancer. As such, employers can now be sued if their employees develop cancer later in life as a result of exposure, as reported by The Sunday Times following the reclassification.
The EU limits for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) exposure are 40µg/m3 annually and 200µg/m3 in an hour, no more than 18 times in a year. Many official measurement stations in cities worldwide report NO2 above the annual limit but less is known about local levels of this pollutant. Because NO2 is produced as a direct result of a source, such as traffic exhaust or diesel generators, levels of NO2 regularly exceed the hourly limit when measured in ‘hotspots’, such as busy road junctions, where it is not practical to install a large air quality measurement station, or on a private site.
Previously, air quality has been likened to passive smoking. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) determined in 2013 that air pollution is more dangerous than passive smoking, and was now the leading cause of cancer. At the time, the IARC’s Kurt Straif told the South China Morning Post “The air we breathe has become polluted with a mixture of cancer-causing substances. We consider this to be the most important environmental carcinogen, more so than passive smoking.”
Measuring ozone (O3) as a part of an air quality monitoring routine is also becoming increasingly important, especially in hotter climates and areas of increased VOC emissions. O3 at ground level is dangerous and is formed by reactions with nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from traffic and industrial emissions in the presence of sunlight. This means hotter, sunnier weather can dramatically increase O3 pollution in urban and industrial areas. The WHO currently states the daily limit of O3 levels to be 100μg/m3 over an 8-hour mean and advise that prolonged exposure to high levels of O3 can have severe effects on human health. These include asthma, inflammation of the airways and reduced lung functionality, just as the recent studies comparing air quality to smoking has found.
Senior co-author of the study Dr Joel Kaufman, from the University of Washington, said: “We were surprised to see how strong air pollution’s impact was on the progression of emphysema on lung scans, in the same league as the effects of cigarette smoking, which is by far the best-known cause of emphysema.” The professor of environmental and occupational health sciences and epidemiology added: “We really need to understand what’s causing chronic lung disease, and it appears that air pollution exposures that are common and hard to avoid might be a major contributor.”
Teams responsible for protecting staff from exposure to hazards can now understand exposure in relevant locations by installing compact air quality monitoring equipment designed to continuously measure pollution levels in ambient air.
AQMesh pods are small, wireless units which can be mounted on a lamp post, fencing, wall or a similar mounting point close to where staff are breathing potentially polluted air, both indoors and outdoors. Air quality readings are secure and confidential, accessed online by authorised personnel only.
AQMesh has been used on building sites, industrial sites and at roadside locations worldwide, as well as measuring the air intake into office buildings, in order to monitor the air quality of employees working in these areas on a daily basis and helping to protect them.
Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has been monitoring Minnesota’s air quality for a number of years, and it is generally considered to be good. However, MPCA wanted to understand how air pollution varies across small distances in order to minimise vulnerable communities’ exposure to harmful pollutants.
Following project funding* in 2017, earlier this year MPCA successfully installed AQMesh pods across 44 sites in neighbourhoods around Minneapolis and St. Paul, primarily on lampposts in school parking lots, with at least one pod in each ZIP code.
MPCA gives high priority to community involvement and sharing its air quality data with the public. It has launched an online tool allowing citizens to compare pollution levels at different monitoring sites over a given date range. Monika Vadali, Ph.D, who is leading the project, welcomes feedback on the online tool and the wider project and is looking forward to hearing comments from communities where monitoring is taking place.
Prior to being deployed across Minneapolis and St. Paul, the AQMesh pods were co-located against the FEM station at Blaine airport for a number of months in order for the readings to be compared and validated, and for scaling to be applied if necessary. During the co-location period AQMesh showed high levels of pod-to-pod precision, with an average R2 of 0.94 for NO2, despite extreme weather conditions.
For the next two years, the AQMesh pods will monitor and report data on levels of NO2, O3, NO, SO2, CO, PM2.5 and PM10 in 44 areas of Minneapolis and St. Paul to build up a picture of air quality across the cities. Scientists at MPCA will use the data to determine if there are any significant differences in the concentration of pollutants between ZIP codes, if there are any areas with unusually high levels of pollution, and if technology such as AQMesh is suitable for measuring such small variations in air quality.
The study is similar to the Breathe London project in the UK, where 100 AQMesh pods have been deployed across London to publish a real-time map of the city’s air pollution, which has now also been launched online.
For more information about the MPCA project, please contact Monika on (+1) 651-757-2776.
*This is a legislative funded LCCMR project, with support provided by the Environment and natural resources trust fund (Subd. 07 Air Quality, Climate Change, and Renewable Energy ENRTF # 07b).
Partners and collaborators include the city of Minneapolis, the city of St. Paul, Minnesota Department of Health, Minnesota State University-Mankato, and Xcel Energy.
Detailed information on London’s (UK) air pollution is now being published on breathelondon.org, the website for a new collaborative project to paint a clearer picture of the city’s air quality. The readings are being provided by a network of AQMesh air quality monitoring pods supplied and installed by Air Monitors, part of the ACOEM Group.
The AQMesh pods are stationary – mostly mounted discreetly on lamp posts, but the pod data is being supplemented by measurements from instruments that have been installed by Air Monitors in two Google Street View Cars, as they travel the city’s streets.
Visitors to the Breathe London website will be able to view almost live data (within an hour) on nitrogen dioxide (NO2); one of the urban pollutants of greatest concern.
“This is a major step forward,” says Felicity Sharp, Air Monitors Managing Director. “The availability of highly localised air quality data is critical to the empowerment of citizens so that they can make choices that affect the quality of the air they breathe.
“In the past, air quality data has not been sufficiently local to allow most citizens to change the way they live their lives, but with the benefit of this website they will be able to choose where they want to walk, run, play, go to school or even buy a house.
“The data will also help to raise awareness and thereby encourage citizens to choose more environmentally friendly transport modes, particularly in pollution hotspots.
“Importantly, the data will also help national and local government to assess the effectiveness of air quality improvement measures. So this is great news for London, and we hope that it will be replicated in similar smart city projects around the world.”
Schools near Glasgow have been monitoring air quality as part of a project aiming to reduce the levels of pollution emitted by vehicles as they drop off and collect children. The project is part of a ‘Beat the Street’ initiative that was granted £50,000 from a new £1million fund to increase walking, cycling and sustainable travel in Scotland. The overall aim is to cut Scotland’s carbon emissions, improve air quality, reverse the trend towards sedentary lifestyles and tackle health inequalities.
The Environmental Health department of East Renfrewshire Council supplied and installed the three AQMesh air quality monitoring pods that were utilised in the project. The monitoring activity followed initiatives in eight schools organised with SEPA, in which the children designed their own air quality banners as part of a competition.
The banners were then placed outside the schools which were then monitored for two weeks with an AQMesh pod measuring a variety of parameters including nitrogen dioxide – one of the pollutants of greatest concern. The Council’s Richard Mowat said: “We used one of our own AQMesh pods and rented the other two from Air Monitors. The pods are small and easy to install so we were able to locate them close to the areas most affected by parents’ vehicles.
“The results clearly showed significant peaks in pollution during the drop-off periods and it was pleasing to note how well the project was received. We hope that this work will help educate the children and that they, in turn, will encourage their parents to leave the cars at home and walk whenever possible.”
Anne-Marie Absolom is Head Teacher at one of the participating schools – St Clares Primary School. She said: “Our Junior Road Safety Officers, and all of the school staff, are delighted that we have had the opportunity to install temporary air quality monitors in our car park.
“We have been campaigning throughout the year to improve air quality in and around our school. The children have also been learning about the small changes that they can make – changes that will make a big difference to the quality of the air we breathe.
“The results from the monitors have highlighted the specific times of day at which air pollution is most significant, and the Junior Road Safety Officers are now campaigning at these times. The data gathered has been shared with all children in the school and they are passionate about spreading the word and ensuring that air pollution is reduced.”
As well as supplying the monitoring equipment for the project, Air Monitors also provided sponsorship funds for the school banners, and this was reflected in a stunning night-time time display on the roof of Glasgow’s famous SEC Armadillo, organised by SEPA. A variety of images relating to air quality were projected on to the Armadillo’s roof, highlighting for example Clean Air Day 2019, as well as the Air Monitors logo.
SEPA’s Dr Colin Gillespie said: “It has been great to work again with Air Monitors and the councils, raising awareness in air quality around schools, promoting active changes to reduce pollution and encouraging pupils to think about more sustainable forms of travel.”
Following a successful evaluation phase in 2018, AQMesh small sensor air quality monitoring ‘pods’ have been selected for use in a project to control the ventilation of a road tunnel in the city of Marseille.
Supported by the AtmoSud (AirPACA) local air quality monitoring network, the CETU (Tunnel Studies Centre) and AQMesh distributor Addair, eight AQMesh pods were installed in February 2019, monitoring nitrogen oxides NO and NO2, in an innovative experiment in one of the covered sections of the L2 ring road in Marseille. Called “Boreas project”, after legendary ‘dispersing’ winds, this study aims to use pollution measurements near tunnel entrances to activate in-tunnel fans.
Urban planning is increasingly routing vehicles underground. Although this approach eases air quality and noise at some locations – and overall reduces the level of pollution the population is exposed to – there is a risk that residents living close to the tunnel heads are actually exposed to higher concentrations of pollution as air is expelled from the tunnel.
The L2 ring road in Marseille consists of a succession of covered tunnels over 12Km in dense urban areas. The phased project at the Montolivet South tunnel heads will implement a system for the conditional triggering of in-tunnel fans to evaluate its impact on air quality in the zones adjacent to the nearest residents. This approach was tested in 2018, with micro-sensor readings compared at the AirPACA Kaddouze monitoring station. A first phase analyses the pollution without activation of the ventilation system, then a second phase with ventilation.
The aim is to determine the link between ventilation and dispersion of the pollution at the end of the tunnel and to determine the most effective protocol for activation of the ventilation systems based on real-time air quality levels, inside and outside the tunnel. Automated alerts for high NO2 levels are already in place. The feasibility of this approach will also be reviewed by analysing efficiency in terms of cost and energy consumption. In theory, the use of ventilation could improve the quality of air at the head of the tunnel. However, in some weather conditions this could simply displace the pollution and this forms part of the study – analysing the pollution concentration and dispersion in different meteorological and traffic conditions.
AQMesh has been used in other tunnel monitoring projects, including several in the UK, specifically to study ventilation efficiency in road tunnels where pollution can build up if sufficient air flow is not maintained. During the UK projects, AQMesh pods were also first co-located with a nearby reference station to ensure measurements were directly comparable.
The pods were then deployed at different positions within the tunnels and in ventilation ducts, studying how the concentration of pollution changed when air flows were adjusted in varying traffic scenarios. The pods were able to run for up to six months without any maintenance or calibration, despite the very high pollution levels recorded. The results obtained in these studies enabled optimisation of the ventilation settings and helped to reduce energy consumption whilst maintaining cleaner air for tunnel users and maintenance personnel.
Supporting the aims of Clean Air Day today, 20th June 2019, the Guardian has published a short film demonstrating the changing levels of pollution that children are exposed to as they walk to school in London. The film can be viewed here.
The Guardian Cities team worked closely with their colleagues in multimedia to create a film showing real-time air quality data as a mother takes her young children to school in north London. The video features mother-of-two Natasa pushing a pram and walking her daughter along Marylebone Road, with a Particles Plus instrument attached to the pram and an AQMesh pod on her daughter’s backpack.
The most important air quality parameters are displayed on-screen during the walk, with data including PM10, PM2.5 and nitrogen dioxide (NO2). The film producers have cleverly integrated the European yearly mean limits for these parameters into the display, with readings changing from blue to red when they exceed the limit, (which for PM10 and NO2 was most of the time!).
Documentary producer Anetta Jones, said: “Air quality is a vitally important issue for the health and wellbeing of city dwellers, but the main pollution threats are invisible, so we hope that initiatives such as this will help residents and visitors to better understand the threat that they face.”
The monitoring equipment was supplied by Air Monitors Limited. Their David Green said: “We have recently installed large numbers of AQMesh pods all over London as part of the Breathe London project, and data from these pods will be displayed on the project website. However, video is an enormously popular medium, and it is really exciting to see what can be achieved when the latest technologies in multimedia and air quality monitoring combine.”
A new network of air pollution monitors has been installed to record emissions from cruise ships docking in Greenwich.
The £80,000 network has been funded by the Port of London Authority (PLA) and installed in partnership with Breathe London and the borough councils covering both Greenwich and Tower Hamlets.
The eight monitoring stations, all located close to the Greenwich Ship Tier landing stage, will capture data around the clock with the raw data available via the websites of both the PLA and Breathe London. A full analysis of the results will be published in early 2020.
The monitors have been supplied by Gloucestershire-based Air Monitors Limited.
Robin Mortimer, PLA chief executive said: ‘The data these monitors collect will give us a comprehensive understanding of the impact that the cruise ships have on air quality when they are in town.
‘It’s crucial to have this information so that we can address the concerns that we know are very strongly held by local residents.’
The monitors are part of the PLA’s Air Quality Strategy, published in May 2018, the first to be produced by a UK port. It includes 25-year targets to halve levels of Nitrogen Oxides and Particular Matter from river-related sources, whilst growing use of the river for carrying both freight and passengers.
Measures already implemented include a programme of retrofitting older vessels with the latest environmentally-friendly technology.
In January, the Department for Transport (DfT) published the first-ever maritime strategy, which details their vision of a zero-emission shipping industry by 2050.
In it, the government said they are considering introducing targets to drive down emissions of GHGs and other air pollutants from UK shipping as ‘the volume of global trade increases.’
They also say they hope to have a group of hydrogen or ammonia powered domestic vessels in operation and at least one major ‘smart port’ in the UK to have all ship-side activity zero emission (including non-road mobile machinery like cranes).
Few people know how clean the air is where they live, work, exercise or where their children go to school. Although air quality can be shown to vary significantly over short distances, air pollution is generally measured using a small number of large, expensive and high quality monitoring stations. The equipment used in these stations is very accurate and complies with measurement standards but they are expensive to buy and maintain, as well as difficult to position because of their size and infrastructure requirements.
With most cities having a single figure number of reference stations at best, many neighbourhoods do not have access to regular and localised air quality information. Historically, the best solution currently is to fill the gaps through modelling, which combines available air quality readings with other information such as emissions inventory.
Demand from communities for better local air quality information is coming at a time when development of smaller, cheaper air quality sensors can provide a solution to the challenge. ‘Small sensor’ air quality systems can provide highly localised pollution measurements, including nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and the key particulate matter measurement, PM2.5, but to provide meaningful measurements on which communities and authorities can make decisions, the information must show traceability to reference measurements.
Many initiatives around the world are aiming to show what can be done, with one of the most ambitious being the Breathe London project in London. 100 small sensor systems are being used, in combination with data from London’s reference network, modelling and readings taken by Google cars modified to carry high quality air monitoring equipment. This project aims to demonstrate how such a ‘hyper-local’ network can be managed, creating a template which can be rolled out to other cities worldwide.
Similarly, 50 AQMesh small sensor air quality monitoring units have been installed to monitor air quality in each of the 50 zip codes in Minneapolis – Saint Paul, USA. “This project is about understanding small-scale differences in air pollution in urban areas in order to minimise exposure to harmful air pollutants, particularly for vulnerable communities. The Assessing Urban Air Quality project will use new air monitoring sensors to broaden our knowledge about air quality in Minneapolis and St. Paul”, commented Monika Vadali, Ph.D, who is leading the project.
AQMesh has also been used to monitor air quality around industrial sites and next to nearby communities which may be affected. As the monitoring units can be positioned with a high degree of flexibility, such as mounting on a lamp post, it is possible to capture data at exactly the point required. With measurements usually every 15 minutes, combined with local wind speed and direction information, it is possible to build up a highly localised picture of likely pollution exposure and identification of pollution sources.
Whilst regulatory authorities are currently defining testing methodologies to help users choose small sensor air quality systems, the best small sensor systems provide a useful and practical tool to supplement existing monitoring networks and are in active use around the world, providing new information about local air quality for a range of applications.
In an inter-connected world, air quality is increasingly becoming another measurement made available to the public, but how reliable is the data?
Common air pollutants such as NO2 and PM2.5 mix at different rates depending on their source and local weather conditions, particularly wind speed, leaving large local variations in pollution levels. Urban air quality has traditionally been managed by authorities using a combination of large, compliance standard (reference) measurement stations and modelling based on an emissions inventory. Research has shown that increasing the number of measurement points improves the spatial resolution of urban air quality models.
Small-sensor air quality monitoring technology offers the possibility of more local measurements, and its emergence coincides with the appetite from Internet of Things (IoT) developers to map air quality across cities in real-time and communicate this information to the city inhabitants in various ways. This is leading to a growing number of smart city projects using a range of monitoring devices, but understanding the air quality information gathered and sharing it with the public can still be complicated.
Many air quality sensors that are small, cheap and have low power consumption are often very limited by the influence of fluctuating temperatures and cross-gas effects and do not produce good air quality readings. It is therefore beneficial to use a small-sensor air quality monitoring system that incorporates processing, correction and a QA/QC process in order to offer meaningful readings. Environmental authorities, including the US EPA, have developed air quality indices (AQI) and other tools to communicate local air quality to the public. These authorities are looking at how to modify that approach to provide more localised information from small sensor-sensor systems, such as air quality in a neighbourhood – or even a street – rather than a whole section of a city.
AQMesh, a small-sensor air quality monitoring system, is being used in a variety of successful smart city projects which have a range of objectives, but with a common goal of informing the public about the air quality and pollution levels in the local area where they live and work.
‘Breathe London’ was launched in February, with a sophisticated network of air quality monitors to help investigate and improve London’s toxic air. A range of fixed and mobile sensors will be used to build up a real-time, hyperlocal image of London’s air quality. The technology company Air Monitors designed and installed the network of AQMesh air quality monitoring pods, as well as the air quality analysers that were specially adapted to operate inside Google Street View cars.
In Minneapolis, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has deployed 50 AQMesh pods across 50 zip code areas in order improve understanding of the small-scale differences in air pollution within urban areas.
Similarly in Newcastle, 55 AQMesh pods, supplied and supported by Air Monitors, form part of a network of over 600 sensors managed by the UK’s first Urban Observatory, which aims to provide Newcastle’s citizens with a digital view of how cities work.
These smart cities demonstrate that meaningful and reliable air quality information can be shared with the public when networks are deployed effectively and supported by air quality professionals who understand the capabilities – and limitations – of small-sensor technology and how the local environment affects air quality readings.
The UK’s first Urban Observatory, led by Newcastle University, has been designed to provide a digital view of how cities work. AQMesh air quality monitoring equipment is being deployed across Newcastle and Gateshead in conjunction with other instruments for monitoring parameters such as air and water quality, noise, weather, energy use, traffic and even tweets.
Forming part of a network of over 600 sensors, the Urban Observatory has already collected over half a billion data points and the information is now starting to shed light on the way different systems interact across the city and provide a baseline against which future cities can be developed and managed.
To date Air Monitors, UK AQMesh distributor, has supplied 55 AQMesh pods and 6 conventional air quality monitoring stations. The conventional stations employ standard reference method instruments to measure key air quality parameters such as Nitrogen Dioxide, Ozone, Carbon Monoxide and Particulates. The AQMesh pods monitor similar parameters, but are smaller, solar-powered, wireless, web-enabled devices that can be quickly and easily located in almost any location.
Commenting on Air Monitors’ involvement in the Urban Observatory project, Managing Director Jim Mills says: “The conventional stations are delivering precise, accurate data, and the AQMesh pods are providing the portability and flexibility to monitor air quality accurately and reliably in the locations of greatest interest.”
“Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this project is its ability to engage with the community, providing detailed local air quality data so that both authorities and citizens can make informed decisions on how to reduce exposure to air pollution. Looking forward, it is clear that work in Newcastle will serve as a model for other cities around the world to follow.”
The National Observatories facility was established in 2017 with the Newcastle Urban Observatory as the founding member, supported by £8.5 million investment from EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council). The guiding principles are to be technology agnostic and vendor non-exclusive, open by default and transparent by design whilst developing a valued, long-term, sustainable platform. In order for the data to be useful to better understand cities and to facilitate evidence based decision-making across a range of scales and sectors, the data needs to be robust and reliable with known data quality that can be validated.
The AQMesh pods are also being used as part of the ‘Sense My Street’ tool box which enables local communities to deploy sensors and locate them on the streets, collecting evidence to inform or even change their communities.
Phil James, who co-leads the Urban Observatory research, explains: “Cities are complex environments and if we want to develop them sustainably we have to understand how everything interacts.
“By compiling observations and comparing the data, for the first time we are now able to make more informed decisions about designing our cities to work better for people and the environment. Through the Sense my Street project, we are able to give communities the power to gather data relevant to issues that are important to them at a very local scale.”
All of the data is freely available at Newcastle University’s website: www.urbanobservatory.ac.uk, and is being used by researchers, local authorities, regulators, developers, town planners, businesses and members of the public.