STEAM: Tech versus our toxic air

Real time air pollution data is published online

Monday, 4th July — By Harry Taylor


One of the air nodes

A WORLD-leading programme of measuring air quality in real time on a street-by-street basis has launched in Camden, giving people an idea of pollution levels in their area.

The AirScape network of air quality sensors went live on Thursday, with 225 helping build up a picture of the severity of problems in Camden, and what can affect levels.

The project, in association with Camden Council and the Camden Clean Air Initiative, will give real-time data. Initial test runs showed the increase in emissions during the tube strike last week, and how the fire in Chalk Farm produced a cloud of particulates which drifted north-east across Camden on June 17.

The sensors measure other pollutants including nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and Ozone (O3) which can be damaging to the human body.

A school group at Regent High School has already used some of the data for lessons about air quality, and cycling groups are using the information to help choose the best times and routes for riders.

Camden’s environment chief, Adam Harrison, said: “This will more than double the number of air pollution monitors that we’ve got access to.

“We’ve made huge progress over the past five years. Historically we have put monitors near busier roads because we know that’s where the pollution is, but now we’ll have more data, in real time, from residential areas and that will inform what we do.”

A study in 2015 by the Hampstead Neighbourhood Forum showed that even in the middle of Hampstead Heath, nitrous dioxide was double the limits in World Health Organisation guidelines.

Cllr Harrison said the sensors will inform policies that help tackle the school run or wood-burning stoves, both of which have been identified as big contributors to pollution.

The sensors are spaced out to give full coverage across Camden and have been installed on lamp posts, buildings and take measurements every minute. It’s hoped the roll-out will extend to other cities.

Cllr Harrison added: “I think having access to data will give people a greater awareness of the pollution in their area, and it will hopefully mean people are more engaged and campaign for the changes they want to see.”

In a 2016 report it was estimated that there are 40,000 premature deaths in the UK each year due to air pollution. It can be a contributing factor to cancer, heart disease, strokes and lung problems.

Last year the WHO reduced its guideline limits for pollution. Recent research showed that 70 per cent of addresses in the UK breach WHO limits for all three pollutants.

Dr Matthew Johnson, chief scientific officer at AirScape said: “Through this project, AirScape is making the invisible, visible. Our air quality sensor network in Camden delivers ultra-high-definition detail of local air pollution.

“The network is supporting policy makers to make data-driven choices to protect the health and wellbeing of the local community, whilst giving the public the ability to make informed decisions every day to reduce their exposure to air pollution.”

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