For as strongly as air pollution has been linked to devastating health problems–including heart disease, obesity, and brain impairments–it’s still often difficult to get a read on where and who it’s impacting the most. That’s why one biotech firm has launched a new map to track pollution data more closely than governments all over the world.
EPA air monitoring stations are often few and far between, especially in rural areas. The agency has published a roadmap to extend and advance air monitoring technology, but it’ll likely be some time before the government can fill out a country full of gaps. So what if cities wanted to track their own pollution more closely, on a neighborhood level? That’s where biotech firm PerkinElmer, which has worked with the EPA on projects related to environmental health monitoring in the past, is focusing its energies. The company says that it plans on rolling out air monitoring networks with individual municipalities and smart growth communities, then upload much of that data to a public map.
“This, really, to me is about environmental data and how to make it relevant to life,” says Andrea Jackson, PerkinElmer’s vice president of marketing strategy. “If you want to understand what’s happening with your air, you generally have to understand the technical literature or read the EPA’s website. We think there’s a much more intuitive way to get people to understand what’s going on. You can imagine more applications near schools, or bike paths, or industrial areas where people would need to understand what their air quality was like.”
The Elm network map is sparse so far, but its creators anticipate filling in more space as they work with new communities to set up sensors. Jackson adds that the company will also be working with private companies, like those in industrial parks, to help monitor their pollutants more closely. Individual citizens can buy the 10-pound sensors, if they’re so inclined, but the first iteration was designed for city networks, Jackson says.
It’s an interesting idea–one that certainly rides on the wave of open-data citizen science projects that encourage individuals to go out and monitor the air around them. But the Elm network also misses out on one crucial thing: Naming the sources of the pollution. Getting a general idea of your air quality is never a bad thing, but the map isn’t the most transparent where it could also be the most useful.