Hyperlocal Air Quality

25 July 2023

This past year everyone was acutely aware of the air quality following the worst season of Canadian wildfires in history. Those who suffer with allergies or respiratory conditions are even more at risk.

Hyperlocal air quality is data that is specific to neighborhoods and streets. Just like in some rain patterns, certain blocks, subdivisions, or areas will receive greater rainfall amounts in the same amount of time than others. In dense urban areas air quality can vary even from one street or block to another. In an area with tall buildings the pollutants and other elements will tend to be quite different from even a nearby park, and drastically different from an open lake area. By studying hyperlocal data is becomes easier to understand and make proper decisions about how to improve the quality, identify pollutants, and monitor air quality compliance.

This sounds nice, but really isn’t it just another boondoggle? Actually it should help city planners. If there are areas with heavy pollutants, then new construction could be restricted and the government should be able to make better decisions about how to mitigate this problem in those areas. Money earmarked for better air quality can be allocated to the areas in most need. Responsible businesses can use the data to choose methods to provide the cleanest air possible. It can also provide valuable evidence in the battle to save our environment.

The EPA has developed a measurement for the quality of what we are breathing. This Air Quality Index (AQI) measures the ozone, particulates, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and carbon monoxide plus quantifies it in a range from 0 (perfect) to 500 (get out the gas mask).

  • Good – At a rating of 0 to 50 this means the air quality is satisfactory and poses little risk.
  • Moderate – This is acceptable quality and rated between 51 and 100. However, for some people with specific issues, it may cause problems. It will depend on the pollutants that are present.
  • Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups – An AQI between 101 and 150 is a warning to groups who have sensitivities. While the general public is generally not at risk, depending on the excess pollutants, individuals with sensitivities to those pollutants will suffer.
  • Unhealthy – Values of 151 and 200 means everyone will probably notice the difference. Those with respiratory ailments can experience more serious effects.
  • Very Unhealthy – Everyone is in danger when the readings are between 201 and 300.

Consistent exposure to bad air can pose a problem for anyone. Pollutants enter the bloodstream and cause itchy eyes or coughing. Asthma can develop at any age and will worsen. Both short and long term exposures have been shown to lead to a wide range of conditions and diseases including stroke, cancers, heart disease, and respiratory malfunctions. All of this can contribute to hospitalizations and even premature death. The greatest risks are highest for children, the elderly, and those with already compromised respiratory systems or autoimmune diseases.

Most air pollution is invisible so it has been difficult to identify sources and trends. The technology used in hyperlocal air quality monitoring can reflect concentrations and allow scientists and city planners to develop and implement solutions that will benefit communities.

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