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Pollution in large cities 4 times over safe level, as new data platform launched to fight air pollution

Embargoed until 00.01, Monday February 1, 2021

  • A new pilot platform hosted by the air quality data platform OpenAQ, in partnership with the Environmental Defense Fund, creates the largest open-source repository of low-cost sensor data.
  • Global air pollution data from OpenAQ shows 33 of the largest cities in the world are exceeding WHO guidance for PM2.5 air pollution by 4 times on average.
  • 90% of the world suffer harmful pollution levels, yet only half have access to air quality data.
  • Low-cost sensors help to fill key monitoring gaps and enable cities, governments, researchers, and citizens to participate in monitoring air quality and fighting air pollution in their communities.

WASHINGTON, DC, LONDON > OpenAQ, a global nonprofit NGO aiming to build the world’s largest repository of air quality data, today announced a new pilot platform integrating low-cost sensors that will enable citizens to track air quality and fight air pollution in their local communities.

New data shows global air pollution on the rise

It is estimated that 90% of the world suffers from harmful levels of air pollution, with the problems particularly acute in urban areas in the Global South, affecting some of the least well-off communities. A recent investigation into the largest cities in the world showed that the average annual level of PM2.5 air pollution was 39 ug/m3, nearly 4 times higher than the World Health Organization guidelines (10 ug/m3). The worst affected cities were in Asia - Lahore (Pakistan), Delhi (India), Dhaka (Bangladesh), Ahmedabad (India) and Xi’an (China) having the highest levels measured, according to OpenAQ.

The data illustrates the stark global inequalities of air pollution, which could be addressed by providing low-cost pollution sensors to communities across the world. For instance, the recorded PM2.5 levels in Delhi were 102 compared to just 7.7 in New York City.

A coalition of NGOs are addressing air pollution inequality through a new open source data platform using low cost air sensors. Developed with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), the pilot is hosted on OpenAQ.org and provides a portal for research scientists, NGOs, and individuals to access both reference grade air quality data across the world as well as newer, low-cost sensor data. The platform brings together low-cost sensor air quality data from EDF’s Air Quality Data Commons as well as from Purple Air, HabitatMap and Carnegie Mellon University. The OpenAQ Platform already houses more than three quarter billion (750 million) data points from 11,000+ stations in 99 countries. The new pilot provides a new dashboard for searching and understanding low-cost sensor data, as well as all the data previously available on OpenAQ’s website and platform via an API.

The new OpenAQ platform will be a resource for cities, governments, and communities at a time when the effects of air pollution on public health, including the challenges they present in individuals diagnosed with COVID-19, have come into sharper focus. As nations around the world plan for a recovery from the pandemic that prioritizes climate change goals, tackling air pollution will become an important priority. OpenAQ’s data platform will give governments and communities an important tool to track these efforts and inform policies and programs. 

Over half of the world’s population has no access to official government data on air quality,[1] according to a study also published by OpenAQ[2] The study, entitled ‘Open Air Quality Data: The Global State of Play’ examined 212 countries and found 109 (51%) governments are not producing air quality data of any major pollutants, while 103 are. OpenAQ has published a full list of air quality monitoring by Governments.

Low-cost sensors are a new air quality monitoring technology that complement more traditional and expensive reference grade monitors and help address these data gaps. While prices can vary, it is often in the 100s or 1,000s vs 10,000s of U.S. dollars for a reference grade monitor. Low-cost sensor units can be installed by individual users, communities as well as governments to increase coverage and access to air quality data to a greater number of citizens, policymakers and NGOs. Given their smaller size, they can be either mobile or in one place (stationary).

Jeremy Taub, Executive Director of OpenAQ, said: “We want to encourage new, affordable solutions to monitor air quality, and bring that data to OpenAQ to increase funding and action for those communities who are most affected by air pollution. It will fill important data gaps allowing communities to develop solutions to air pollution.”

Millie Chu Baird, Associate Vice President at Environmental Defense Fund, said: “One of the keys to fighting air pollution inequity is data transparency—ensuring that as wide a range of people as possible have access to as much of it as possible. It’s foundational to the ability to take action.”

Michael Heimbinder, Executive Director of HabitatMap said: “HabitatMap makes technologies accessible so communities facing disproportionate environmental burdens can advocate for equity and improved quality of life. We're excited to have the air quality data contributed to the open-source AirCasting platform made available via OpenAQ's low-cost sensor pilot.”

Albert Presto, Associate Research Professor at Carnegie Mellon University, said: “Sensors bring air pollution data to the neighborhood level, but people need to be able to access the data from trusted sources using reliable tools. OpenAQ is one source that will allow us to further disseminate this valuable data.”

Ailun Yang, Head of International Climate and Environment Initiatives, Bloomberg Philanthropies, said: “Air pollution around the world threatens our climate and public health, including increasing peoples’ risk to COVID-19. Bloomberg Philanthropies is proud to support efforts like OpenAQ’s open-source air quality data platform, which increases transparency, expands access, and gives communities and governments the data they need to drive informed policy-based solutions to improve lives.”

Matt Whitney, Portfolio Manager, Clean Air Fund, said: “We see the launch of OpenAQ’s low-cost sensor pilot as a critical step in enabling new solutions to fight for clean air. The Clean Air Fund believes that tackling air pollution requires open and transparent access to air quality data, adoption of new and emerging technologies, and creative multi-stakeholder and multi-sectoral partnerships. We are proud to support OpenAQ’s groundbreaking work in achieving these important goals.”

Signe Ostby and Scott Cook, Valhalla Foundation, said: “We are proud to support EDF’s Air Quality work, which harnesses sensor data to deepen the understanding of the health impacts and disparities among populations who live, work and attend school in higher pollution areas. As this work continues to spread to other parts of the globe, we hope more communities, advocacy organizations and governments will use this data to take action and stop pollution at its source.”

OpenAQ data in action

Case Study - Accra, Ghana

In Ghana, 17,000 premature deaths are attributed to poor air quality. Across West Africa, biomass burning, vehicle emissions, and industrial waste are identified as the main contributors to the air pollution problem. Clean Air One Atmosphere, an NGO in Accra, Ghana built Yakokoe, a mobile application using PurpleAir low-cost sensor data to engage, educate and empower citizens to use air quality data to make informed decisions about how to protect their health. The mobile application provides Ghanaian citizens with free air quality data in their region and its associated health risks by sharing an Air Quality Index (AQI) that has different thresholds based on risk levels. Having PurpleAir data now available on the integrated OpenAQ pilot platform opens new possibilities to scale impact, as it draws attention to air quality challenges in Ghana and West Africa at-large to the rest of the world.[3]

Case Study - Los Angeles, United States

High volumes of traffic and pollution from diesel trucks, trains, and ships that service the Port of Los Angeles/Long Beach - the busiest port in the US - contribute to the LA metropolitan region’s ranking as one of most heavily polluted areas of the country. A Day in the Life at the University of Southern California allows young people, to tell the story of their own experiences with air pollution by combining low-cost sensor data with text, photos, and videos. After being trained to use the AirBeams + AirCasting platform which originates from HabitatMap one of the low-cost sensor data partners in the pilot, A Day in the Life participants collect data over a one to two week period with the goal of collecting at least eight to ten hours of data on a single day to illustrate their daily exposure to PM2.5. Started in 2017, participants have logged nearly 200 AirBeam sessions on the AirCasting mobile app resulting in over 520 hours of particulate matter exposure data collected.[4]

Ends

Editors notes

Further information: alex@alexbigham.com; +44 (0)7830 195 812

[1] See p 10, OpenAQ report - Open Air Quality Data: The Global State of Play https://openaq.org/assets/files/2020_OpenData_StateofPlay.pdf

[2] https://www.who.int/health-topics/air-pollution#tab=tab_1

[3] More details: OpenAQ Impact Story. CATALYZING CHANGE: THE PUSH FOR OPEN… | by OpenAQ | Medium

[4] More details: USC Environmental Health Centers (habitatmap.org)

OpenAQ Partners

Air Quality Data Commons (AQDC)

The AQDC is an open-access, open-source data platform that allows people to share and use FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, Reusable) data from low- and medium-cost air quality sensors while maintaining necessary data privacy and security. In addition to centralized storage, the AQDC provides the infrastructure to analyze and visualize neighborhood-level air quality data.

Environmental Defense Fund

Environmental Defense Fund (edf.org), a leading international nonprofit organization, creates transformational solutions to the most serious environmental problems. EDF links science, economics, law and innovative private-sector partnerships. With offices in the United States, China, Mexico, United Kingdom and Indonesia, EDF's 750 scientists, economists, attorneys -- and our allies -- work in 26 countries to turn our solutions into action. EDF's Global Clean Air Initiative is advancing innovation in air pollution monitoring and control around the world to tackle the growing crisis of urban air quality. Working with diverse partners on the ground in the US and Mexico, the UK and China, we are advancing scientific and policy tools to support solutions that deliver cleaner air and healthier communities.

HabitatMap

HabitatMap is an environmental technology non-profit building open-source, free, and low-cost environmental monitoring and data visualization solutions. Our tools empower organizations and citizen scientists to measure pollution and advocate for equitable solutions to environmental health issues. We focus on low-income communities and communities of color living with disproportionate environmental burdens. Our central data visualization platform - AirCasting - and its companion palm-sized air quality measurement device - AirBeam - support schools, researchers, community-based organizations, municipalities, and regulatory agencies in obtaining valid environmental data that can be used to make decisions in real-time and craft data-informed policy. The AirCasting platform empowers community-based organizations, educators, academics, regulators, city managers, and citizen scientists to map air pollution and organize for clean air the world over. With thousands of AirBeams in use worldwide, the AirCasting platform is one of the largest open-source databases of community-collected air quality measurements ever created.

Carnegie Mellon University RAMP Network

The Pittsburgh RAMP data have been used to quantify the spatial variability of the impact of the largest metallurgical coke plant in North America on community air quality, as well as the temporal variability of vehicular contributions to urban air pollution; to demonstrate that traditional environmental justice indicators like race and income might not predict all PM2.5 disparities in Pittsburgh because of topography and meteorology; and to investigate the impacts of COVID-19 lockdowns on air quality. Now that we understand the effect of various modifiable factors on spatio-temporal variability in air pollution across Pittsburgh, we can design better control measures to reduce human exposure and encourage people to adopt personal behavioral changes to improve their quality of life. We also publish monthly reports summarizing the data collected across the network and share these reports with local citizens.

The RAMP network is operated and maintained by members of the Center for Atmospheric Particle Studies at Carnegie Mellon University. CAPS members are world leaders in science, engineering, and policy covering the full role of fine particulate matter in the atmosphere. RAMP development was led by R. Subramanian in collaboration with Albert Presto. The network has been grown and maintained by a dedicated group of CAPS members including Aliaksei Hauryliuk, Rose Eilenberg, Rebecca Gruener, Carl Malings, Naomi Zimmerman, and Allen Robinson.

PurpleAir

PurpleAir is an air quality monitoring network built on a new generation of Internet of Things sensors. They use a new generation of laser particle counters to provide real-time measurement of PM1.0, PM2.5, and PM10. PurpleAir sensors are easy to install and only require a power outlet and WiFi. They also use WiFi to report in real-time to the PurpleAir map. PurpleAir was formed in 2015 and is headquartered in Draper, Utah, USA. www2.purpleair.com

About OpenAQ

OpenAQ is an environmental technology non-profit organization and the largest global open source repository of air quality data. OpenAQ’s mission is to aggregate and harmonize open air quality data across the globe and to enable and grow a community of people across sectors and geographies to use this open data to fight the unequal access to clean air to breathe – air inequality. The OpenAQ Platform currently houses more than three quarter billion data points from 11,000+ stations in 99 countries and is the largest open air quality data platform of its kind, in terms of measurements and geography. It receives ~35 million data requests/month to the open API. https://openaq.org/. OpenAQ’s work is made possible in part by the generous support of both the Clean Air Fund and Bloomberg Philanthropies.

For further information please contact:

OpenAQ
+44 7830 195812
alex@alexbigham.com
openaq.org
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