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Community monitoring vs. industrial monitoring

06-Jun-2024Community | Community monitoring | Industrial | Industrial monitoring | Networks

Community monitoring vs. industrial monitoring

Communities and industry are monitoring air quality around the same areas, so they both want the same thing, right? Er, no, not really ..

Even though both types of AQMesh user may measure the same pollutants using the same instrument, their objectives and needs are often different. The community users we deal with – mostly in the UK and USA, but plenty of other places too – tend to be more interested in identifying pollution events and relating that to what they are experiencing. The first step is a sort of validation of what they believe to be happening all around them. This is not to say that the review of data is selective or unscientific, it’s just experience-focused. For example, school monitoring projects are generally focused on identifying periods of elevated air pollution outside and around the school at different times in the school day and finding the cause / source.

On the other hand, air quality monitoring around communities by the industries that may be the source of the pollution takes a different approach. Our industrial customers – from oil and gas, construction, mining, landfill and other sectors – want accurate air pollution measurements to demonstrate that they are within compliance of local environmental regulations. Another aspect is that there is often more than one potential source of pollution in an area so an industrial AQMesh user may be keen to understand more about what pollution is coming from where (and hopefully proving that a neighbouring facility is causing the issue, not them). Accurate wind data is required to carry out such source apportionment analysis. AQMesh offer a wind speed and direction sensor option and normally only one pod in an area needs to be gathering this information.

Whilst communities and industries may have slightly different air pollution monitoring objectives, they recognise the benefit of using the same instruments, so the data is comparable. A version of this desire to be able to make meaningful comparisons is where government monitoring uses a particular type of equipment and the potential industrial polluters being monitored choose to use the same technology. For example, a community in Texas, USA, installed AQMesh pods outside suspected polluters, so the industrial facility (or rather a consultancy they hired) bought AQMesh systems to monitor themselves. This helps to build trust that data collection and analysis will be done correctly and in an unbiased manner. Another factor bringing all parties together is when there is a natural cause for the pollution affecting people, such as volcanoes (see our news items about airport and community in Iceland) and wildfires.

In the USA, industrial companies are aware that use of uncertified equipment – other than FRM / FEM – means they cannot be obliged to report on data. This creates a ‘safe space’ for potential polluters to understand the air quality around their operations and their impact on it, ahead of compliance demands.

And then there are data centres, where the focus is not on the potential for pollutants to harm people but infrastructure. Hydrogen sulphide monitoring can warn of potential damage to sensitive copper circuits and HVAC maintenance intervals can be managed by monitoring of PM levels, helping to prevent machinery failures.

So, whilst different customers are all using the same air quality monitoring systems and measuring the same pollutants, the reasons driving the project may be entirely different. Either way, our experienced team can support a range of objectives and help interpret your data with meaningful context.

How clean is your local air?

25-Apr-2019Community monitoring | Smart cities

How clean is your local air?

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.