Low-cost sensors gather air pollution data

Nov 26, 2013 by John Lorinc
Credit: Natalia Mykhaylova

(Phys.org) —Epidemiologists' understanding of the relationship between exposure to airborne pollutants and a range of health conditions, such as cardiovascular disease and asthma, has grown increasingly precise in recent years.

What's less well known is precisely where the air is most polluted.

Toronto, for example, has only four air-quality measurement stations providing real-time data, even though research shows that the concentration of pollutants such as nitric oxides, and carbon monoxide can vary by orders of magnitude within an area spanning just a few city blocks.

To more precisely gauge , Natalia Mykhaylova, a PhD candidate in chemical engineering, is developing an inexpensive air-quality monitor that could be deployed on utility poles across a city. The shoebox-sized device, which is packed with sensors and detectors that can measure the concentration of fine particles and the pollutants mentioned above, will eventually be powered by lithium batteries and small solar panels.

The total price of the components can be kept to less than $300, Mykhaylova says, and the monitor can be adapted for indoor sites.

Mykhaylova, who works in the Southern Ontario Centre for Atmospheric Aerosol Research in U of T's Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering, says her vision is to one day connect the monitors wirelessly to a data network so the measurements can be fed into a central database in real time. Such a network would allow users to go to a website to check pollution levels in specific neighbourhoods with an eye to adjusting their travel patterns or pressuring public officials to deal with local pollution sources.

For now, Mykhaylova and her team have placed a dozen of their homemade pollution-monitoring stations in backyards near highways around the city and are trying to determine the traffic's impact on nearby .

Mykhaylova lives near the Gardiner Expressway and a large industrial facility, so she is keenly aware of the potential health consequences of living close to highways – something a growing number of Toronto condo dwellers now experience.

The ultimate goal is to encourage local governments to deploy commercial versions of these low-cost devices in large numbers around urban areas as a way of generating a much more nuanced and up-to-the-minute picture of the invisible geography of pollution.

"The government needs to have this data out there for people to know what the levels are," says Mykhaylova.

Explore further: EU researchers explore pathways for transition to sustainable lifestyles

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Silent killer strikes at peak hour

Nov 18, 2013

It's official - air pollution causes cancer and a QUT researcher is calling on Australian policymakers to do more to save lives.

Air quality in an app

Mar 11, 2013

Thanks to sensors installed on trams that send data live to mobile phones, people can check air pollution levels around the city with just one click and in real time. This new app developed by EPFL researchers was recently ...

Pregnant mothers at risk from air pollution

Oct 07, 2011

A Californian-based study has looked in detail at air quality and the impact of traffic-related air pollution on premature birth. Published in BioMed Central's open access journal Environmental Health, results from this s ...

Recommended for you

Education is key to climate adaptation

12 hours ago

Given that some climate change is already unavoidable—as just confirmed by the new IPCC report—investing in empowerment through universal education should be an essential element in climate change adaptation ...

India court slams Delhi's worsening air pollution

21 hours ago

India's environment court has slammed the government over the capital's horrendous air pollution, which it said was "getting worse" every day, and ordered a string of measures to bring it down.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.