As part of Environment Hamilton’s new Inhale project that gathers street level pollution data, several parents are volunteering to attach air quality monitors to their baby’s strollers and head out for a walk. The new project maps particulate matter in a way that stationary air monitoring systems can’t.
Organizers are hoping that this data – coupled with a similar bicycle air quality monitoring project that was launched last year – will help inform the public and drive policy decisions when it comes to health and the environment.
It’s a relatively simple system. A person walks (or rides) with a device that measures particulate matter in the air, alongside a GPS. That data is then uploaded to an online heat map where people can click specific areas and see what averages are alongside specific counts for specific times.
In some cases, air quality is actually better than expected. In others at specific times, it’s worse.
Any limitations to the project Inhale? INHALE is so far limited to certain neighborhoods, however another pioneering project called Bicycle Air Monitoring covers an even wider area by strapping air quality sensors to the bikes of volunteers.
INHALE also only measures particulate matter – which is linked to cardiovascular and respiratory disease, asthma attacks and acute bronchitis – but misses other important air quality measures. That’s because of limitations with available and affordable technology.
But measuring particulate matter in the city is no less important.
The biggest limitation the project faces is that it can’t be scientifically verified in the way that an official air monitoring station can be, as it isn’t pulling data at regular intervals.
Environment Hamilton is up front about though, and has a disclaimer on the website that the data is intended for “educational purposes only.”
But even with those limitations, these tools can be useful to educate people about air quality in their neighbourhoods, Lukasik says – as well as help drive policy decisions at the city level.
As more volunteers contribute to the system, the data grows stronger and could be used to identify areas of the city that might benefit from increased tree planting or to help with the argument for two-way street conversions.