Using Air Quality Data for Meaningful Smart City Insights

What is Air Pollution and Why Should we Care?

Air is always around us, whether it be indoors, outdoors, at the park or at work but as an invisible thing to the naked eye, the effects it can have on human health aren’t always immediately obvious. To ensure people are living and breathing as safely as possible, ambient air quality is something which needs to be observed on a regular basis.

Air quality puts into consideration the volume of gases such as ozone (O3), nitric oxide (NO), hydrogen sulphide (H2S) and sulphur dioxide (SO2) and particulates, in ambient air which contributes to the 4.2 million global deaths every year. In the UK, nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particulate matter (PM2.5) are two of the major outdoor air pollutants for which concentrations in cities and towns are constantly under scrutiny.

Where Does it Come From?

cars on a main road

NO­2 is a result of the combustion of fossil fuels which is used for fuel in transport, in homes for heating, or for activities such as food manufacturing. You may find high levels of NO2 at busy roads with lots of traffic, or during colder temperatures whilst indoor heating is being used which contributes to elevated concentrations. The higher the levels, the more harmful to human health - evidence shows that long term exposure can lead to health problems including inflammation of the airways and worsened lung function and development, particularly in children.

Particulate matter is a is a mix of human made or naturally occurring solid and liquid droplets which are found in the air. Some particles are large enough to be seen, such as dust or dirt, but others are so small they can’t be seen unless under a microscope. Although particulate matter comes in many different shapes and sizes, PM1 PM2.5 and PM10 refer to the size of a particle in diameters. PM2.5, also known as fine particulate matter, is another of the UK’s main components of urban air pollution. The pollutant is emitted directly from a source such as burning wood, diesel vehicles, or at construction sites where activities generating dust are carried out and is found at built environments, traffic heavy areas, and industrial sites. The health impacts of PM2.5 include cardiovascular and respiratory risks especially to those with pre-existing conditions as exposure leads to worsened symptoms of problems like asthma and COPD.

The dangerous health risks which come with unsafe levels are just some of many reasons as to why air quality needs to be monitored and strategies identified to reduce heightened levels of pollution, and this is where Smart Cities come into the picture.

What is a Smart City?

A Smart City is a relatively new method of collating data with Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) which can be used for a range of different initiatives. Smart Cities have been described as a type of framework made up of ICT to develop, deploy and promote sustainable development on both small and large scales to tackle growing challenges in urban areas.

Within the framework is a network of connected technologies, such as smartphones, parking sensors and air quality monitors, which transmit data to cloud based IoT (Internet of Things) systems delivering information about cities and towns. Combined data from these technologies is assisting improvements in environment, transport, utilities, buildings and safety. By providing a holistic view of how cities behave for systems integrators, local authorities, businesses, and citizens, this allows for better decision making for the way they interact, live, move and breathe .

How is Smart City Technology being Used Today?

smart city