We breathe around 20,000 times every day. Our bodies’ cells are nourished by the oxygen in the air. But such toxins can also enter our bodies if the air we breathe contains dangerous particle matter and chemicals.
Millions of people die every year from air pollution, one of the biggest risks to human health. In 2019, 99% of the world’s population, according to estimates from the World Health Organization (WHO), resided in areas where the air quality did not satisfy WHO standards.
According to the European Environment Agency’s assessment on air quality in Europe from the same year, chronic exposure to small pollution particles led to 307,000 premature deaths in the European Union.
Measuring the air
Cities and municipalities must first measure air pollution in order to minimise it. However, conventional equipment is pricey and cumbersome.
Leonardo Santiago of Bettair Cities, who oversaw a project to encourage a more flexible measuring technique, described it as “a giant container, three by four metres, with its own aircon and energy 24/7.” “And then they need trained personnel to do maintenance,”
Better ways to measure and monitor air pollution must be developed as soon as possible.
European regulations mandate that cities in the EU with more than 100,000 residents monitor air quality. According to Santiago, because traditional monitoring stations are expensive and inconvenient, many smaller communities that are exempt from the requirement to perform the inspection don’t, while larger towns only use a small number of them.
With the typical number of stations in a city, he claimed, “there aren’t enough for them to make an accurate map. They typically estimate what is happening using mathematical models, but they are blind to reality.
The Horizon project built a platform called MappingAir that uses information from a network of less expensive sensors created by Spain-based Bettair Cities. Under the bulbs of the company’s smart streetlights, helmet-like sensors scan the air for contaminants.
The price of smaller sensors is roughly R80,000, while traditional monitoring stations can cost up to R4,200 000 and require frequent, specialist maintenance.
The project, which lasted three years and ended last month, established the monitoring platform and allowed Bettair Cities to develop its sensor from a prototype into a finished good.
The technology is now being tested in Rome, with several other cities across Europe and South America following. Some of these sensors are being tested to demonstrate their effectiveness, while others are being installed in businesses. More cities have expressed interest, according to Santiago.
The sensor has electrochemical cells that can detect the presence of contaminants inside its plastic casing. However, these cells also respond to temperature and humidity, which can affect how accurate the data are.
What we have done, according to Santiago, is employ artificial intelligence to examine how each of these factors affects the sensor. The noise in the data created by other variables, such as humidity and temperature, is successfully removed by the AI algorithms.
According to Santiago, the pollution information provided by the company’s “blackbox full of artificial intelligence” matches that produced by the conventional container-sized stations roughly 94% of the time when sensor data is input into it.
Only every two years are the cells need to be replaced by owners—much less frequent maintenance than for conventional stations. The sensors’ inclusion of noise-pollution detectors is an extra bonus.
To combat urban air pollution, scientists are looking to outer space.
Maps of air quality for numerous places across the world have been created by a separate research study using satellites and monitoring stations.
According to Evangelos Gerasopoulos, the project manager for the Health Surveillance Air Quality Pilot, “when we integrate Earth observation data with socio-economic data, including health data, we reach so much closer to the real problems, or the underlying reasons for the problems.” “We are then one step closer to reaching a decision.”
His work is a part of the e-shape project, a Horizon initiative that uses the wealth of data from Europe’s Earth observation infrastructure to the advantage of people in a variety of industries, from water and agriculture to energy and health.
Thierry Ranchin, head of the Center Observation, Impacts, Energy at MINES ParisTech in France and scientific coordinator of e-shape, stated that the programme “was designed with and for users.”
Through its Teaser platform, the air-quality experiment shows users—such as towns, businesses, and individuals—what is possible when Earth observation, health, and socioeconomic data from 2018 to 2020 are combined.
The cloud-based platform provides an aggregated risk score for hundreds of locations around the globe, which is used to evaluate the effect of air quality on health.
For instance, Athens’ main thoroughfares, which are also densely populated neighbourhoods, are a source of air pollution during the winter. The map displays the exposure of those at risk as well as the magnitude of the pollution.
Greek national Gerasopoulos, who works at the National Observatory of Athens, remarked, “We offered a one-stop shop.”