Air pollution isn’t fixed. It fluctuates throughout the day, depending on time and location, meaning that the health risks associated with air pollution can increase depending on how high the local pollution levels are. Luckily, scientists publishing their research in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology have found a way to use smart phone and sensor technology to monitor where pollution is peaking. The researchers noted that it’s important to remember that pollution can vary greatly between school and work environments, or by time of day—for instance, rush hour.
The research, led by Mark J. Nieuwenhuijsen and colleagues, involved fitting over fifty school-aged children with smart phones that tracked their location and physical activity. They were also fitted with sensors set to track the levels of black carbon in the air. The data from the smartphones and sensors found that the children received most of their exposure to black carbon (13%) while traveling to and from school (only 4% of the time in their day).
Such data findings could contribute to novel and important new ways to navigate individuals, particularly at-risk individuals like children and seniors, through the urban environment in a way that allows them to avoid air pollution or other pollution vectors.
The approach could also lead to a kind of real-time analytics for air pollution levels in cities, allowing, perhaps, city-wide data networks allowing individuals to “drill down” on the data—or even heatmap visualizations of air pollution “weather” as it passes through city areas. This could, in turn, lead to better urban planning and even call attention to, for instance, issues of race and class as they relate to exposure to pollutants (via proximity to freeways and industrial areas instead of nature-rich suburbs, for instance).