Geeks Take On Air Pollution

Sarah Jayne Bell
By Sarah Jayne Bell Last edited 34 months ago
Geeks Take On Air Pollution

Air pollution is a problem in London. Geeks like problems. Tech isn't the only answer, but it helps. From cheap sensors for detecting pollution to GIS mapping of hot spots, technology is helping to get a clearer picture of how bad air pollution is across London, and it's inspiring communities to take action.

Air quality egg

The Air Quality Egg was started by hackers in Amsterdam and New York, and funded by a Kickstarter campaign. It gives individuals and communities the chance to install their own air pollution monitoring stations. The system produces real time readings of carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide that are connected into a web platform. Anyone in the world can see egg results. We reckon there are about 50 eggs currently collecting data in London. This is still less than the 104 official monitoring sites, which provide more scientifically robust data. You can order an egg from the US for around £150, or use their open source code and designs to make your own. Watch the video of an early London hackathon hosted at UCL in 2012 to see a lovely American geek try to convince a guy in a Bloomsbury bookshop to test an egg prototype.

Hackathons

Put enough geeks in a room full of power sockets and pizza for a weekend and they'll solve just about anything. In June the Urban Air Quality Hackathon and Climathon events in London tried to unleash the coders and makers on our air pollution problem. The TrackAir team triumphed with their project to create an app to track the emissions and carbon footprint of individual journeys. Airbike will develop a system to attach sensors to bikes to provide real time air pollution monitoring. Pollupla will bring together data from Zoopla and the London Air Quality Network to show prospective home buyers pollution levels in their new postcode.

Geeks hacking solutions to air pollution in London. Image from LSx

Diffusion tubes installed across London. Image from LSx

Diffusion tubes

The diffusion tube is the standard piece of kit for community science monitoring of nitrogen dioxide. This is the pollutant that London performs worst on compared to European air quality standards. Community groups attach diffusion tubes to sign posts, street lights, and other spots, at around head height. The tubes are typically installed for one month, and passively absorb the gas. They are then sent back to the supplier for lab analysis, giving data about average concentration over the monitoring period for the specific location. Tubes and analysis are available from suppliers such as Gradko International for around £10 each. The London Sustainability Exchange (LSx) offers support for community groups setting up diffusion tubes and making sense of the data.

Mapping

The London Air Quality Network provides official monitoring data for local authorities and government agencies. Using data from more than 100 monitoring sites as input into numerical models, they produce maps of London air quality and forecasts of pollution levels which you can search by postcode. Their data and pollution warnings can also be accessed via the LondonAir mobile app. Citizen scientists map their results using the Community Maps portal, and GoogleMaps. Getting citizen science data all in one place would be helpful to supplement the official data, and get Londoners and our politicians taking action to clean up our air.

Citizen science air quality map from Battersea. Image from LSx
Citizen science air quality results. Image from LSx

Last Updated 16 July 2015