Personal Air Pollution Sensors Not Up to Snuff?

If you’ve seen any recent photos or data from Beijing, you’re well aware that air pollution is only getting worse. Especially in China, but here, there, and everywhere, too—the whole dang planet. A recent study showed that, every day, 96% of people in large cities are exposed to air pollution levels that are above the recommended limit. Good job, fellow humans!

Ye Olde London "Fog"

Ye Olde London “Fog”

All I Need is The Air that I Breathe

Major air-quality improvement measures have been enacted in many areas around the world, including countless projects in the U.S. at local, state, and federal levels. However, as it’s quite clearly “too little too late” for the world as a whole, many people are making it personal—personal air pollution sensors, that is!

Now, the air pollution sensors utilized by the government are highly advanced, highly sensitive, and very, very expensive. They’re also intended to do the job for up to 100,000 people in highly populated areas. They measure daily exposure to all sorts of harmful environmental factors like nitrogen dioxide particles, and can help researchers pinpoint just where more needs to be done to control particulate emissions.

To cater to individuals, dozens of small startup companies have appeared recently, all producing affordable, personal air pollution sensors. They inexpensive enough for the average joe to afford, and can help people monitor the air quality in smaller spaces. But do they work as well as they need to?

In the Air Tonight

Unfortunately, most of the fun-size pollution sensors on the market have not been tested, certainly not up to the rigorous standards required of municipal-level sensors. The majority of airborne pollutants—like ozone or the aforementioned nitrogen dioxide—need to be measured at a parts-per-billion (PPB) level and detected amongst thousands of other “ingredients” that make up the air we breathe.

It’s essentially impossible for a small, personal air pollution sensor to contain all the right technology needed to properly measure pollutants. But it’s still such a new industry that research and regulation has not yet caught up. The only answer is to pump the brakes and do more R&D, followed by more testing, then more R&D, then more testing, etc., etc., etc.

Photo credit: David Holt London via Foter.com / CC BY

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