Cities worldwide have adopted fiber-optic data networks to enhance connectivity across smart buildings, public transportation, wireless internet access, streetlights, parking spaces, and more. Yet, U.S. air quality monitoring systems haven’t quite followed suit. At the end of last year, the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) said the air pollution monitoring system disrepairs the following years of budget cuts and neglect. Specifically, since 2004, the network’s funding has decreased by about 20%. Simultaneously, between 90,000 and 360,000 deaths per year in the U.S. are linked to air pollution. As wildfires and industrial air pollution trouble the country’s population, a modernized air pollution monitoring system is essential. That’s where IoT comes in.
The GAO has made two recommendations for Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) executive action to help improve the air Americans breathe. These include an asset management framework using quality data to allocate resources and a specialized team to lead this initiative. To begin, this asset management framework would involve low-cost air quality sensors to more efficiently record necessary data.
Air Quality Sensors
Air Quality IoT sensors can be used in tandem with traditional air quality monitoring systems to deliver larger amounts of granular data. These can either be integrated into existing infrastructure, attached to mobile objects such as cars and public transportation, or take on a different form by analyzing cell phone data.
Some cities have already started to implement this technology. Chicago, for example, deployed its Array of Things in 2014, a citywide network of sensors that track air pollutants. These sensors measure levels of atmospheric pressure, temperature, altitude, humidity, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, methane, ammonium, and other pollutants. The city has used this data to take preventative measures against air quality incidents. Other data responses include street closures, transportation halts, alternative routing, and avoidance recommendations.
Opportunities for Citizens
Currently, in most cities, there is no opportunity for citizens to access data on the levels of pollution they are exposed to in real-time. Air quality data reports through mobile apps can help citizens avoid certain areas and be used by health professionals to treat their patients better and provide a more accurate diagnosis.
There are also economic benefits to modernizing air quality monitoring. In 2013, the World Bank reported that premature deaths due to air pollution cost the global economy about $225 billion in lost labor and $5.11 trillion in welfare.
The scariest part about air pollution is that it is an invisible problem to the human eye until it manifests into disease and chronic living conditions, which are then unavoidable. As IoT technologies develop and become more accessible, they will slowly shed light on this invisible problem and increase the quality of life for all. Air quality monitoring is just another example of how IoT can empower individuals with the information they need to take control of their own lives.