Recent ‘Saharan dust’ issue highlights the need for air quality monitoring
Published: 4 April 2014 - Rachael Morling
Recently, the Prime Minister’s car was covered by a thin layer of Saharan dust and air quality was suddenly a lead item in the national news. The dust itself does not pose a serious hazard to health in comparison with the finer particles (from diesel engines for example) that travel deep into the lungs, but Jim Mills, MD of Air Monitors, believes that the media attention that this event inspired should have a positive effect on the UK’s strategy for improving air quality. He said: “This recent pollution episode demonstrates that people need to be able to see pollution before they become interested in it,” he says.
Just a few days prior to this, the World Health Organisation reported that ‘in 2012 around seven million people died – one in eight of total global deaths – as a result of air pollution exposure. This finding more than doubles previous estimates and confirms that air pollution is now the world’s largest single environmental health risk.
The statistics that show 29,000 premature UK deaths (as a result of air pollution) pass largely unnoticed because the ‘cause of death’ is usually a heart attack, a stroke or some other cardiovascular ailment. The fact that this figure exceeds those for obesity, alcohol and road traffic accidents is largely ignored.
Mills, however, believes that the problem needs to be made visible: “People need to know what the air quality is, but that information needs to useful…
“Air quality data needs to be more spatially specific; people need to know which streets are particularly bad so that they can make decisions accordingly; such as choosing a route to work or selecting a school in an area with cleaner air.
“Greater detail and higher visibility of air quality data will also help to motivate politicians to implement measures to improve air quality.”
According to Mills, finding a way to improve the detail and visibility of data has been the focus of Air Monitors in recent years. He said: “We have developed a bolt-on capability (AQWeb) for monitoring stations that utilises the latest communications technology and the ‘Cloud’ to make live data available via the Internet. In addition, working with the company Geotech, we have launched AQMesh, a revolutionary technology that dramatically reduces the cost and footprint of monitoring equipment so that air quality can be measured anywhere, and live data viewed at anytime from anywhere.”