Helping predict and control urban air quality

Since the Industrial Revolution, the air we breathe has become more and more dirty, especially in urban areas. Air pollution is carcinogenic to humans and was responsible for 7 million deaths in 2012 according to WHO estimates, yet it is an invisible killer and as such is all too easy to ignore.
People Impacted
$ 1.6T
Potential Funding
I have this challenge
the problem
Nature and Context

Traditional air quality monitoring stations are large mains powered housings with reference grade analyzers that require regular calibration and maintenance.  Data from these stations are essential because they can be used for enforcement and are accepted in a court of law. However reference air quality monitoring stations are expensive to construct and maintain. In addition, these large structures are often difficult to locate and require planning permission from the local authority. Importantly, they only provide air quality data from one fixed location, which may not be representative of local air quality (AQN).

Symptoms and Causes

What is Air Pollution/Poor Air quality?

Air pollution refers to the release of pollutants into the air that are detrimental to human health and the planet as a whole. Most air pollution comes from energy use and production. Burning fossil fuels releases gases and chemicals into the air effecting the air quality (NRDC).

Air Quality is Hard to Detect

Among the many environmental challenges facing cities, air quality is especially difficult to manage. Air pollution diffuses quickly, so that everyone shares the costs of emissions. Enforcing regulation is complicated by the difficulty of tracking down the source of harmful emissions (Data Smart).

Monitoring and Improving Air Quality is Expensive

Reducing pollution is expensive. The cheapest ways to produce energy and dispose of waste cause the most detrimental pollution, such that reducing emissions inevitably requires a transition to more costly processes (Data Smart).

the impact
Negative Effects

Effects on Health

  •  Long-term exposure to ambient air pollutants was significantly associated with increasing emphysema (JAMA).

  • Even short term exposure to pollution can cause coughing, headaches, and eye, nose, and throat irritation. Symptoms may last for a few hours after exposure and even become painful (Spare the Air).

Effects on Environment

  • Compromised growth, reproduction, and overall health of plants. Ozone interferes with the ability of plants to produce and store food. This also makes plants and trees weaker and more susceptible to diseases, pests, and environmental stresses.

  • Damage or death of leaves so that they become spotted or brown or fall off prematurely.

  • Reduction of agricultural yields for many economically important crops, including soybeans, kidney beans, wheat, and cotton (Spare the Air).

Economic Impact

Modelling the economic consequences of outdoor air pollution requires several steps that link economic activity to emissions, concentrations, exposure, biophysical impacts and finally valuation of the economic costs (OECD).

  • Air pollution already affects human health, agriculture and leads to a range of other impacts. These impacts are projected to become much more severe in the coming decades.

  • In absence of additional and more stringent policies, increasing economic activity and energy demand will lead to a significant increase in global emissions of air pollutants, according to projections using the OECD’s ENV-Linkages model.

  • The market impacts of outdoor air pollution, which include impacts on labour productivity, health expenditures and agricultural crop yields, are projected to lead to global economic costs that gradually increase to 1% of global GDP by 2060.

  • The annual global welfare costs associated with the premature deaths from outdoor air pollution, calculated using estimates of the individual willingness-to pay to reduce the risk of premature death, are projected to rise from USD 3 trillion in 2015 to USD 18-25 trillion in 2060. In addition, the annual global welfare costs associated with pain and suffering from illness are projected to be around USD 2.2 trillion by 2060, up from around USD 300 billion in 2015, based on results from studies valuating the willingness-to-pay to reduce health risks.

Success Metrics
  • Reduce individual contribution to air pollution by encouraging share rides, public transportation, alternative commuting with bikes, scooters, etc.

  • Educate companies and individuals on the The Clean Air Act, and incentivize cooperation with the EPA

  • Use Data to advance efforts of cleaner air movements.

  • Develop more advanced sensors, analytics, and communication tools to allow cities to make citizens more aware, engage residents to reduce pollution, and address the health outcomes of poor air quality. 

who benefits from solving this problem
Organization Types
  • Environmental Protection Agency

  • Department of Ecology

  • Public Health System

  • Environmentalists

  • Urban Dwellers

  • Commuters

financial insights
Ideas Description

Plume Labs is a smartphone app that uses open data to collect information from over 11,000 pollution monitoring stations in 150 metropolitan areas across the globe and present it all to the user in a neat, easy-to-navigate interface.

Aclima’s mission is to build a more environmentally intelligent society. Aclima deploys and manages region-wide sensor networks, integrating its mobile and stationary sensors to deliver air pollution and greenhouse gas data at unparalleled scale, resolution, quality and reliability.

Envirosite WorkBench combines years of environmental data expertise and innovation to provide you with a flexible web-based delivery platform that is dynamic, customizable, and with reporting available 24/7. WorkBench reports gather data from over 1,700 current databases to provide you with environmental data and reports all in one location.