It’s no secret that residents of carcinogen-thick cities have above average incidences of asthma. Now a new generation of pocket-sized pollution detectors, developed by scientists at Columbia University and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, could pinpoint the types of toxic air particles inhaled by people on a daily basis.
In the past, pollution sensors have been too large and unwieldy–often weighing as much as a baby–to be suitable for everyday use. The new sensor, however, is just 15 centimeters long, under 7.5 centimeters wide, and weighs no more than a Walkman. And unlike earlier models that emanated a buzzing sound, the small sensor is virtually silent.
Now that the scientists have developed a non-intrusive sensor, the real work of detecting everyday pollutants can begin. Scientists involved in the project are dispatching sensors to 30 asthma-suffering children and 30 asthma-free kids. A Bluetooth beacon attached to the sensor detects if kids are home, outdoors, or at school in an attempt to decipher where subjects are exposed to black carbon and particulates. Once kids know what is triggering their asthma symptoms, they can take action to avoid, say, a pollution-heavy playground.
The pollution sensor is not without its flaws. It doesn’t work if placed inside a backpack or purse, and can be thrown off if hidden under a coat. That means kids have to wear a specially designed asthma vest, which should make them quite popular in the playground–although it has not yet been scientifically proven to increase the chances that these kids will be the center of ridicule, we think it’s pretty likely.