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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.

University of Cambridge measures seasonal variabilities in air quality in West Africa using AQMesh

28-Nov-2023Community | Networks | Research | UrbanAfrica

University of Cambridge measures seasonal variabilities in air quality in West Africa using AQMesh

It’s great to see the team at the Department of Atmospheric Chemistry, University of Cambridge using their AQMesh pods for another project, this time in Lagos, Nigeria and Yaoundé, Cameroon. The two pods were used as part of a year-long study into the health risks taken by people using open spaces in the cities for physical activity, measuring NO, NO2, O3, CO, CO2, PM2.5, PM10, pressure, temperature and relative humidity.

As there would be no access to reference equipment for data validation in either of the cities, the pods were ‘calibrated’ in Cambridge, before leaving UK (co-located with reference equipment at the Department of Chemistry). The co-location results shown in the paper are pretty good but it’s worth noting that the Cambridge team had chosen to use an older algorithm than was in general use by AQMesh at the time, following the ground-breaking Breathe London pilot study, for which gas algorithm version 5.1 had been used. V5.3 processing gives a further improvement in temperature correction, based on analysis of an ever-extending set of global co-location comparisons with reference.

A previous project had identified the informal places used by Lagos and Yaoundé residents to exercise, including vacant plots of land, next to roads and areas under and next to bridges: spaces with potentially high levels of air pollution. This information was used to choose a suitable monitoring location in each city. As has been observed in many parts of the world, patterns over time – or temporal profiles – can be very different for gases and particulate matter. In this case it seems that particulate matter was travelling long distances to create a dominating background level, with the source attributed to the Harmattan haze: a dry, dusty wind which blows from the Sahara towards western Africa.

The authors of the study concluded that their findings reinforce the need for long-term air quality monitoring to help guide behavioural changes that can protect health while exercising. They were able to offer some useful information, including the observation that weekends and periods outside the rush hour on most days tended to have the best air quality in both cities and so would be the best time for people to take exercise. Air pollution is also generally lower during the wet season, so taking physical exercise in a sheltered, outdoor space would maximise the benefits. It was not referred to in this paper, but the point was made at last month’s ASIC Ghana conference that awareness of the risks of air pollution may be much lower in Africa than in countries where we have been talking about it for longer. As ever, the biggest challenge will be achieving behavioural change.

AQMesh has been used regularly in Africa, and across the globe. For more information visit our website or contact us today.

*Image shows study locations and the installed low-cost air quality sensor devices. (a) Melen Mini-Ferme area, Yaoundé, Cameroon and (b) Admiralty Way, VI, Lagos, Nigeria.

AQMesh used in BEAIR smart pedestrian crossing systems

16-Nov-2023Community | Networks | Smart citiesItaly

AQMesh used in BEAIR smart pedestrian crossing systems

AQMesh is being used in an innovative intelligent pedestrian crossing system being developed by three collaborators across Italy, Israel and Spain.

The Behavioural Enhancement for Air Improvement and Resilience (BEAIR) concept integrates smart lighting, intelligent cameras and AQMesh air quality monitors at pedestrian crossings, as well as an app that offers real-time information on air quality and local traffic. The system is designed to improve safety for both pedestrians and motorists.

The AQMesh pods used in this project measure 6  gases  as well as particles and use the bespoke AQMesh smart solar pack for autonomous power. Data is provided in near-real time via the AQMesh API.

The first pod and smart pedestrian crossing has been installed on a busy street in Genoa, close to the highway, port and subway station and aims to provide a safe and sustainable living environment for Genoa’s citizens.

More information about the BEAIR solution can be found here, and contact the team at AQMesh today to find out how we can support your air quality initiatives.

The same challenges always seem to come up in community air quality monitoring, wherever you are in the world

20-Oct-2023Community | Networks

The same challenges always seem to come up in community air quality monitoring, wherever you are in the world

Watching the ASIC Ghana conference presentations, it is striking that the same issues come up, whether monitoring in Africa, Europe or America. Many of the challenges relate to boring logistics: where to position measurement units and how to get power to the chosen location. It was impressive to see communities in Africa modifying their western mains-supplied equipment with a locally sourced solar supply, but it wasn’t easy.

Small, neat, smart, easily mountable solar supplies are great, even if they are challenging in cities or anywhere else:-

  • Equipment draws low power in the first place
  • Smart power management is used
  • An appropriate backup battery is chosen
  • Solar panels are positioned and angled correctly
  • Shadows are avoided – even the slightest shadows reduce yield

Whilst taking power from lamp posts is tempting (when they are available) it is an even bigger challenge than just getting permission to mount equipment on posts which may be owned and managed by a distant third party. Power from lamp posts can be ‘dirty’, affecting the performance of delicate air quality equipment, where sensors are often working at their limits anyway, without the problem of power supply noise. This challenge is made even worse by the growing amount of other equipment deployed on posts, often generating high levels of electromagnetic interference. We have devoted huge resources to solving these problems since the Breathe London pilot! All these issues can cause huge delays in getting projects started, so as much advance planning as possible can minimise project slippage.

Another big challenge is community engagement. How do you engage the public when they don’t think there is a problem, they don’t care or they don’t think anything they do will make any difference? The most successful projects do not assume that people who live in the communities care as much about air quality as the research team do. The Ghana conference showcased projects which have been driven by friendship and trust. By putting equipment in the hands of carefully chosen personal contacts, letting them take ownership and spread the word, projects are more likely to fulfil their objectives and equipment not disappear.

So, assuming air quality monitoring equipment can be deployed and the community is engaged, what happens when the readings start to flow? How do you know if they are accurate, and how do you share them? That’s another story ..

Breathe Easy Dallas chooses AQMesh

22-Jul-2023Community | Networks | Smart cities | Urban

Breathe Easy Dallas chooses AQMesh

AQMesh is being used as part of the newly revived Breathe Easy Dallas initiative – a project designed to measure and understand air pollution at neighbourhood level.

As published by The Dallas Express in March 2023, eight AQMesh pods have so far been used by the Office of Environmental Quality & Sustainability (OEQ) with a view to extending the network to 40 pods across areas that are suspected to have higher-than-average levels of air pollution.

Carlos Evans, director of the OEQ, confirms the Breathe Easy Dallas initiative will aid the development of policies that ensure safe and clean air within communities, and was reported to state “We have a pretty good understanding of regional air quality, but we don’t have a good understanding of neighbourhood level air quality”.

AQMesh has been used in a number of similar projects across North America – and elsewhere around the world – where networks of small sensor systems are used to supplement information available from larger reference sites to build up a picture of localised air pollution levels. In Minneapolis, USA, 50 AQMesh pods are used to determine air quality levels at different zip codes. In Kitchener, Canada, several AQMesh pods have been used to measure air quality levels at schools across the region.

Developed, manufactured, supplied and supported from the UK, AQMesh is available across North America via its authorised and trained distributor, Ambilabs. The product is a small sensor air quality monitoring system that can measure up to 6 gases as well as PM, noise and wind speed and direction.

AQMesh used to monitor pollution from alternative cooking fuels in Kenya


AQMesh used to monitor pollution from alternative cooking fuels in Kenya

Three AQMesh pods have been monitoring air quality in Kenya as part of a study to measure the impact of using biogas as an alternative cooking fuel.

Funded by the UK Research Council and led by a partnership between the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL) and the Department of Chemistry, the project conducted a pilot study to test whether households using clean biogas technology for cooking experienced improvements in air quality compared to households burning biomass with more traditional technology.

Kenya only has one air quality monitoring station, meaning there is currently almost a total absence of reliable air quality data. Personal exposure and location-specific data is not available, limiting the ability to inform strategies for tackling health problems caused by exposure to poor air quality. In addition to handheld devices for measuring indoor air quality, AQMesh was therefore chosen because of its small size, low power consumption and the ability to be powered using a range of sources.

Read the full report.

“Given the limited research infrastructure available to quantify air pollution levels in peri-urban Kenya, this study employed novel sensing technologies that offer an affordable, achievable and validated alternative”, commented Dr Lia Chatzidiakou of the Department of Chemistry, University of Cambridge.

Domestic biodigesters and biogas cooking stoves had been introduced to 50 households within the community prior to this pilot study. Air pollution levels close to houses using the new biogas stoves and the houses using traditional biomass fuels were measured continuously for two months with three AQMesh pods. These were deployed across strategic locations to understand the spatial and temporal variations of the different emission sources, depending on wind speed and direction. 18,000 observations of pollutants were gathered, with a data capture rate of over 90%. Initial analysis focused on fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and carbon monoxide (CO) as an indicator of combustion. Initial conclusions suggest that the level of air pollutants may be determined more by the material being cooked – fish, in this case – than the fuel used but the study also revealed some unexpected benefits of using biogas as a cooking fuel.

Biogas produced within the digester is piped into the household where it is connected to a double-ring stove and ready to burn. The site studied was developed in a manner that is broadly representative of many sub-Saharan settlements: clusters of houses around communal open spaces, with more buildings continually being built. The preliminary report highlights the social benefits of shifting to biogas as a cooking fuel, as well as improvements in air quality, and the possibility of releasing time for women to receive education.

New technology, research and tests can sometimes cause curiosity and concern in many communities, so it was important to allow time to talk to families, and explain the project. On arrival, the Cambridge team met with householders to answer their questions and discuss their involvement in the research. Local residents were shown the AQMesh pods – this sort of introduction has ensured full cooperation and uninterrupted deployment of monitoring equipment in many such projects.

Prior to their deployment, the AQMesh pods were co-located next to certified reference instruments in the UK (Department of Chemistry, University of Cambridge) to characterise their performance. The three AQMesh pods were also co-located close together at the site in Kenya, demonstrating a high level of precision, as shown in the plots.

As well as this study in Kenya, AQMesh pods are currently operating in a variety of projects across Africa, including Ghana, Rwanda, Botswana, Malawi, Libya, Mauritius and South Africa, and AQMesh has previously been used in Nigeria.