Take a deep breath…
Air. It surrounds us. It is imperative to our survival and yet, across the world, we are suffering the effects of toxic air.
Air pollution is not a new phenomenon. It precedes even the industrial revolution; for as long as we have been burning solid fuels, we have been producing pollution. The difference is that now, thanks to data, we know the risks of global warming and the damage it causes. The World Health Organisation considers air pollution to be the greatest environmental risk to human health. It isn’t all bad news though; now we have access to meaningful data, we are able to make significant changes, and technology could hold the key to reducing the biggest environmental risk to humankind.
So, what are we doing about it?
As part of the UK Government’s Clean Air Strategy, five cities have been instructed to introduce a Clean Air Zone (CAZ); Birmingham, Leeds, Nottingham, Derby and Southampton. London now has an Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ). In the long term, the goal is to improve air quality, reducing emissions by discouraging the use of older, more polluting, vehicles. In the short term, the hope is a reduction in the number of places where air quality is poor.
What is a Clean Air Zone?
Quite simply, it is an area where targeted action is taken to improve air quality with the aim of reducing air borne pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide and micro particles. It can be limited to one road or a larger part of a city.
Apart from reducing the use of heavily polluting vehicles, green technology is being implemented to clean air in specific areas. Marylebone Station in London provides a great example. A partnership between green tech start up Airlabs, BNP Paribas, Chiltern Railways, SkratchAV, and JCDecaux has created four clean air zones around the station. Airlabs use atmospheric chemistry technology to create air filtration systems which, in this case, have been placed within specially adapted Out Of Home (OOH) advertising units powered by Arkessa partner, SkratchAV. The result is a significant reduction in particulate matter and gases such as NOx, SOx, CO2 and Ozone in the area.
This isn’t Airlabs first foray into clean air tech. In 2016 they teamed up with Artform Urban Furniture to produce a Clean Air Bench which was modern, attractive and provided cleaner air using the Airlabs filter. More recently they have developed Airbubbl, a nanocarbon filter device which attaches to car-seat headrests to provide cleaner air for vehicle occupants.
Air quality monitoring systems are also in use worldwide. DustscanAQ are a UK dust and air quality consultancy who have developed systems and meteorological monitoring equipment which provide real time data.
Earthsense, who provide air quality monitoring, have developed an app which allows users to find the least polluted routes in their area for walking, cycling and other exercise. The app provides a weekly report on pollution levels. Earthsense have also created MappAir, a high resolution nationwide map of air pollution.
What about the future?
Smart technology solutions give us the ability to gather data both in real time and as part of trends. It’s important that city planners and governments continue to use data intelligently to deploy air filtration systems and other clean air solutions in locations which will bring the greatest benefit. Retail spaces, airports, hospitals, schools, bus shelters could all become places that allow us to breathe just a little more easily.