Air Monitoring

How Can You Avoid High Pollution Areas?

Oct 02 2017 Comments 0

Last month saw the launch of the world’s first high-quality, low-cost air monitoring device, allowing users to assess levels of pollution in their vicinity. The “Flow” air monitor is the first of its kind capable of measuring levels of the three most dangerous kinds of contaminants in the air.

As well as collecting real-time information about air quality in your area, the Flow can also upload the data to a free downloadable app, allowing its users and others access to the information and creating pollution maps which give city dwellers the chance to avoid hotspots.

Revitalised, not revolutionary

The increased exposure given to the worsened states of urban airways across the world have led to a greater demand amongst concerned residents for information pertaining to the quality of the air they are breathing. The impressive growth at this year's Air Quality and Emissions event in Telford is evidence of the ever-increasing importance with which companies and individuals are viewing air quality.

At the same time, advances in technology have led to increasingly sophisticated apps and devices arriving on the market. Though the Flow is far from the first continuous emissions monitoring system (CEMS) to reach a commercial audience, it is the first to be capable of measuring all three of the most harmful kinds of pollutants.

As well as monitoring airborne particulates such as particulate matter 2.5 (which is considered by some commentators to be the biggest health risk with regards to air pollution), the device is also able to measure volatile compounds (VOCs) and nitrogen oxides (NOx).

This is down to the advent of nanowire gas sensors that can be incorporated into the microchips in the Flow unit. Advances in the hardware now mean that they are small enough to be crammed into one single sensor, giving the clearest picture to date of the state of our airways.

Setting an example

The Flow device was initially trialled by a group of 100 volunteers in London this summer. Equally functional as a handheld sensor or an attachable add-on to backpacks, bicycles and pushchairs, the Flow is designed to be sleek and discreet and can be obtained for under $200 (£150) in many countries around the world.

It’s expected to enjoy initial success in the European and American markets, but there is also a growing market for CEMS in developing countries, as well. China, long viewed as one of the most polluting countries on the planet, has recently made a concerted effort to curb its carbon footprint, while India has also declared its intentions to bring down emissions by pledging to remove all fossil fuel cars from dealerships by 2030.

For now, devices and projects like Flow will equip everyday citizens to gain a better handle on the cleanliness of the air they’re breathing and perhaps tailor their plans accordingly. For example, joggers could alter their running route to avoid pollution hotspots and those with young children could stay at home on particularly poor air quality days to avoid exposing the young lungs to the fumes.

While the makers of the Flow device concede that it’s not quite as accurate or as scientific as ones used in the laboratory, it’s “more than sufficient to evaluate personal exposure to air pollution”. As the science continues to advance, they will surely only get more detailed and precise.

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