I was given the chance to review an air quality monitor from a European company that is located in one of the most contaminated countries with the highest concentrations of particulate matter − the notorious pollutant which causes premature deaths and many illnesses.
Each year during the cold winter months, Bulgaria has the highest PM2.5 concentrations of all EU-28 member states in urban areas (I have the chance to experience it in person in Sofia). The reason is wood and coal burning. Senstate Technologies SC is a Bulgarian company with experience in the field of environmental issues.
The Senstate Urban Air Quality Station is a versatile and configurable air quality monitor with cutting-edge technologies on board, I will give you more information about it in a hot minute.
In the space of ambient air quality monitoring, there are two basic and distinctive categories of professional air quality monitors; the High-End Professional and Low-Cost Professional monitors. I have been asked multiple times to recommend monitors for scientific studies and the deployment of them in cities.
It is very important to understand the strengths and weaknesses of both categories. It is also mandatory to recognize the fact that we will never get the exact same measurement from either category of sensors.
High-End Professional AQA
High-End Professional ambient air quality analyzers are used mostly by governments inside the air quality stations we have in most cities. Their strength is that they meet international standards for accuracy and they are certified by the EU (and similar bodies) to meet minimum performance requirements, in order to ensure that the measurement methods comply with the Data Quality Objectives set down in the Ambient Air Quality Directive (2008/50/EC) and in the amending Directive (EU) 2015/1480. Their weakness is that they require lots of energy to operate. In most cases, they are inside a fixed container with a refrigeration system to keep conditions stable. They are big and boxy in size and very expensive to purchase and operate. Additionally, they need constant maintenance by a technician. Another weakness is that in most cases these analyzers are not smart enough to broadcast measurement in real-time to the Cloud and they require other pieces of equipment to do that job, as a result, the cost of operation increases.
Ambient air pollution is the world’s top driver of illness and death from chronic diseases like heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and chronic lung disease.
According to WHO, ambient air pollution is the cause of almost 30% of all deaths and disease from lung cancer. Furthermore, polluted air is responsible for 24% of all deaths from stroke and 25% of all deaths and disease from ischaemic heart disease. Finally, it attributes to 43% of all deaths and disease from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) are linked to low-income communities.
Which are the top 2 sources of Air Pollution in cities in 2022?
Wood and biomass burning
Yes, that’s right the “cozy” wood stoves that most people love and brag about are the number one sources of air pollution in cities all around the world. The population on earth takes turns each year, during the 6 cold months in the northern hemisphere and the other 6 months in the southern hemisphere. All wood-burning stoves are very dirty, it doesn’t matter if they are old fireplaces, EPA certified, or pellet stoves. They all emit a tremendous amount of particulate matter which is responsible for all the illnesses and deaths I have mentioned above.
Time to talk seriously about ambient air pollution and how technology can help us see and consequently mitigate it. According to a 2016 report, the annual cost of air pollution has to the global health care system has risen to US$ 176 billion from US$ 21 billion in 2015 and the number of workdays lost to air pollution-related illness bounces to 3.7 billion from 1.2 billion. According to another report, ambient air pollution kills more than 3 million people across the globe every year but more importantly causes health problems that increase the annual health care budget.
Unfortunately, air pollution is not taken very seriously by governments and society because we tend to dismiss things we can’t see or understand. Here comes Kunak which is one of the leading companies in the field of monitoring air pollution accurately. Recently, the monitor Kunak Air PRO has been rewarded at the AirLab Challenge 2021 as the most accurate multi-pollutant ambient monitor and it is made in Spain.
Experts, academics, the city, and policymakers all need air quality monitors in order to quantify the ambient air, get the right conclusions about the situation, and finally, make the right decision on how to mitigate the pollution and the health care costs. As you can understand the accuracy of the monitor is very crucial and Kunak delivers great results.
What’s new? Well, lots of new Outdoor Air Quality Monitors have been released into the market for various purposes and different budgets. Air quality monitors for professional use in cities and industrial sites and homeowners who want to supervise the ambient air quality outside their houses/apartments.
This time, I have included the General Star Score from the AIRLAB Challenge 2021 for the monitors that took part. The Ethera NEMo Outdoor monitor scored the highest with 4.5 Stars out of 5.
uRADMonitor with the Smoggie and City models scored 4/5 and 3.5/5, respectably. Also the Kunak Air Pro which I will review soon scored 4/5. It is great to see that all these solutions deliver accurate results.
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I have come to the conclusion that rankings of cities by air pollution are not accurate and they don’t reflect the real situation in large communities because if you are unlucky enough to have a careless neighbor that burns wood/garbage/etc or you live outside the Low Traffic Neighborhoods (LTNs) and official AQ stations are far away from you then you are screwed!
Basically, your health is a subject of what others want, and there is little you can do to protect yourself. You can always stay indoors with purifies all over the house 24/7 and unable to open a window for oxygenated air to come inside. That is not correct as your freedom to open a window or walk outside your house and the right to breathe clean air are taken from you.
There are many studies talking about inequality in low-income communities. In a recent study researchers have even identified the fact that there are less trees around poor communities than in high-income ones.
Politicians marginalize the work-class constantly by refusing to find solutions to their problems. Some laws protect us from air pollution but they are not enforced. So far scientists have gathered hundred of evidence that tells us firmly that air pollution kills – more than 7 million people have died prematurely worldwide due to air pollution. Personally, death doesn’t scare me, but living a life with many medications and unable to function as a human being (Alzheimer’s among some of the most common diseases) is my biggest fear and air pollution can decrease the quality of life. It is hard to quantify morbidity which means the condition of suffering from a disease or medical condition. This is not the future I want for myself and the people around me and you shouldn’t too.
I am very happy to announce that I am launching a new series of Podcast episodes where people from all around the world will be able to share their experience with air pollution and how it affects their lives.
Episode 1 : London, UK – Traffic Pollution and LTNs
In the first episode, we will hear Ediz from London, UK. Ediz is a clean air campaigner and he and his family members have to breathe lots of traffic-related air pollution as his neighborhood is jammed by hundreds of cars every day.
The Internet of Things (IoT) describes the network of electronic devices (air quality monitors, purifiers, motion detectors, cameras, etc.) that are embedded with sensors, software, and other technologies for the purpose of connecting and exchanging data with other devices over the Internet.
In this article, I am going to describe some of the available networks and physical layers that are used by Air Quality Monitors (AQM), mainly for consumer-based products, and discuss which technologies make more sense in 2021+ for Smart Homes/Buildings and Businesses.
Wi-Fi IEEE 802.11
IEEE 802.11 is part of the IEEE 802 set of local area network (LAN) protocols and specifies the set of media access control (MAC) and physical layer (PHY) protocols for implementing wireless local area network (WLAN) Wi-Fi computer communication in various frequencies including 2.4 GHz, 5 GHz, and 6GHz.
This standard wireless network protocol is among the most common protocols for communication between the devices and the internet/cloud. Most devices even today use the ~20 years old 802.11b or 802.11g with a linkrate between 1 to 54 Mbit/s and a frequency of 2.4 GHz for power conservation reasons and good wall penetration. The 802.11n transmits the highest data throughput, but at the cost of high-power consumption at 5GHz.
IoT AQMs do not need a high-speed data throughput because the information they transfer is very little and in the range of a few kilobytes. So protocols like the IEEE 802.11ac and IEEE 802.11ax don’t make a lot of sense because they demand energy and they don’t offer good wall penetration in order to cover an entry house/apartment.
IEEE 802.11ax aka WiFi 6 or 6e
There are some claims that IoT devices will adopt the new WiFi 6e (e stands for enhanced) but I don’t think we will see that happening as bandwidth isn’t relevant for AQMs but the range is more essential and the WiFi 6e is designed to cover approximately 30m/98ft indoors. The 6e operates at 6Ghz, as a result, the highest the frequency the shortest the distance a signal can travel within walls. A positive feature of this protocol is that it supports a Low Power Indoor (LPI) mode. In the multi-user scenario, the WiFi 6 module consumes only one-third of that of the Wi-Fi 4 (802.11n) module and they achieve that by shortening wake-up time.
When you use low-cost monitors for professional reasons, you need to calibrate them in order to obtain the best possible measurements. This process makes data less vulnerable to environmental conditions and more valuable to scientists and policymakers.
Clarity takes this process really seriously, and they dedicate a lot of resources to making sure their devices will measure accurate data (for more on how to assess air quality sensor accuracy, see this blog). I ask Clarity to perform a remote calibration on my Node-S and guide me through the entire the process.
I have discovered something interesting during that process about the local air quality station.
As you may already know from my previous articles, my local air quality station ES1393A is placed inside a park and it is almost surrounded by trees. Trees act as a barrier, and they block pollutants from reaching the monitors. The Clarity team told me that this was an especially complicated calibration. I suspect it has to do with the location of the station and how trees may interact with low-cost sensors.
The type of trees in my city is a variation of a ficus called ficus retusa l. var nitida. These trees release a resin from their leaves which can create interference to the low-cost sensors that do not have a filter to keep them out as the scientific-grade monitors do. Most outdoor scientific-grade monitors come with a debris screen inlet or an Inlet Heater which may capture the resin from the trees.
The problem is not the trees but the location of the air quality station that shouldn’t have been there.
In today’s marketplace, there are many ambient air quality monitors capable of measuring multiple environmental parameters and pollutants in real-time. However, air quality monitors aren’t useful unless they are paired with an intelligent software platform in order to extrapolate the information and make it serviceable to operators and communities.
Envirosuite has succeeded in embedded 30+ years or experience working with complex air quality and meteorology challenges directly into an advanced software platform. Users can make operational decisions based on insights from real-time air quality data and emissions modeling. Furthermore, they can identify the likely sources of air quality pollution from past incidents.
The platform is currently used by over 500 industrial operations such as mines, oil refineries, maritime ports, construction sites but also for municipal authorities in cities. Noise management capabilities are also used at 200 of the world’s major airports.
Key modules and their functionalities
Envirosuite does just that and it is a global leader in Environmental Intelligence, using proprietary technology and real-time localized data to help industries grow sustainably and communities to thrive. The platform integrates with pre-existing monitoring devices that are capturing data on multiple air quality parameters. It is offered as SaaS (software-as-a-service) subscription supported by AWS cloud technology and is segmented into modular solutions for to assist with specific air quality challenges.