November 30, 2018 - In August, the National Weather Service in San Diego tweeted that smoke from wildfires on the west coast had traveled across the continent to the east coast. In some cases smoke was detected at surface level in upstate New York and in New England. For those living near these and other fires in 2018, they experienced some of the most polluted air on earth, days when the Air Quality Index rated Hazardous. On those days “the entire population is even more likely to be affected by serious health effects.”
Much of the potential adverse health effects of such pollution stem from the smoke which is made up of gases and fine particles. These particles are the most dangerous constituents of wildfire smoke. Particulate Matter is 10 to 30 smaller than the width of a human hair; so small they are easily inhaled into the lungs, some may even make it into the bloodstream. Wildfires are not the only source of tiny particles that adversely affect the health of children and older adults, dust from construction sites or roadways along with emissions from power plants, industries, and automobiles combine, mix, and undergo chemical reactions to create more particles. If there is haze on the horizon, its most likely the smallest, most dangerous particles, PM2.5.
Another major contributor to poor air quality and frequently found in our towns and cities is Ozone. It is the main ingredient of smog. It is created when emissions from cars, power plans, and chemical plants react with sunlight. Because of this, more ozone is formed when the weather is warmer; this is the time when more people will be outdoors enjoying the good weather. For example, Denver frequently has high Ozone levels due to its location high in the Rocky Mountains, large volume of cars, oil and gas wells, and a very sunny disposition. These are ideal conditions for generating Ozone. Both PM2.5 and Ozone have adverse effects on children whose lungs are still forming, on older adults who may be more sensitive to poor air quality, and on those frequently participating in outdoor activities.
How do cities know when air quality is deteriorating below healthy standards? Traditionally, large expensive lab-grade instruments and advanced software models have been used to calculate the Air Quality Index. These are macro models and calculations. They do not provide real-time localized values. But city officials want to know exactly when and where their citizens are at risk. They want granular air quality data delivered immediately.
In a Smart Cities real-time values for Ozone and PM2.5 are readily available at the neighborhood level. By leveraging the power available at the streetlight and the communications network provided by the lighting control system, it is possible to power up and connect low cost, calibrated Ozone and PM2.5 sensors across a city at a fraction of the cost of a certified instrument creating EPA grade measurements. These modular sensors can measure many types of environmental factors, including humidity, dew point, NO2 concentration and temperature.
Localized monitoring enables data driven decision making. A school district can determine if PM2.5 pollution is too high for children with asthma to go out to play or an assisted living facility can decide if Ozone is high enough that it will affect the breathing of its residents. By providing reliable and timely air quality data, citizens and municipalities can make more informed decisions – the definition of a Smart City outcome.
Cimcon works with partners to provide sensors and communication networks necessary to deploy air quality monitoring systems like those discussed here. Our solutions provide highly accurate air quality data, delivered on dashboards to help city officials make the informed decisions that protect their constituents. Learn more about air quality monitoring and other applications in our smart city roadmap.