Dynamic Monitoring of Air Quality

As cities become denser, the risks of air quality become greater.  Already, according to the World Health Organization, 4.2 million worldwide deaths are attributed to outdoor air pollution every year. That number seems poised to increase as more of the world’s population becomes centralized in urban areas. With these facts staring us in the face, cities should be increasing their level of air quality monitoring to more quickly identify and remedy pollution sources.

The outside world is dynamic, unpredictable, and sometimes harsh. When it comes to air quality, measurements are, of course, dependent on the amount of pollutants entering the environment, but they are also dependent on standard environmental characteristics such as temperature, humidity, and air flow patterns. (See our prior blog for an overview of air quality monitoring issues) As a result, air quality at a particular location can change pretty quickly.  For many of us, we hear about air quality when we listen to or read the daily weather report. But air quality doesn’t update on a 24-hour basis.  It is constantly changing based on the changing environmental characteristics and the output of the pollutant source.

You can see this in action if you go to look at the air quality index of cities and how they change in a 24-hour period.  For instance, I recently reviewed the air quality data on White Plains, New York at the website of the World Air Quality Index project, a non-profit project which publishes air quality readings from environmental protection agencies across the world to promote air pollution awareness.  As you can see in the Figure, the readings for particulate matter (specifically PM2.5) were usually in a healthy range, but they had fluctuated over the past 48 hours and ten times had risen to an unhealthy level.

 

Air Quality Index, White Plains, NY

Figure: White Plains, NY air quality index readings on April 1, 2019. Source: https://waqi.info.

 

You can also see from the map in the Figure that the measurements of air quality are being sparsely taken.  When you leave White Plains, the next closest location where air quality is being measured is the New York Botanical Gardens, which is 15 miles away.  Because the measuring equipment is sparsely distributed, it is difficult to pinpoint the source of the pollution and take corrective action.

 To be proactive and prevent harm to citizens, cities have to increase their monitoring capabilities. Measurements should be more frequent and measuring devices should be closer together.  NearSky edge data processors, which can be deployed at any streetlight pole, present an opportunity to measure air quality at many more locations across a city, including near suspected pollution sources.  With NearSky, cities have the potential to have an air quality sensor every 100-150 feet and measure pollutants every 15 minutes throughout the day.  That type of resolution, combined with real-time alerting capability gives a city new powers to improve the air quality for their citizens. For more information on using NearSky for air quality monitoring, view the webinar, “Monitor Air Quality with NearSky Smart City Platform.”