When left unchecked, poor air quality can cause a range of respiratory health issues, damage our local environment, and even result in death. Responsible for an estimated seven million deaths each year, recent WHO data shows that 9 out of 10 people are currently breathing air that exceeds recommended guidelines. Even in areas where levels are less acute, there is no amount of exposure to pollutants that is entirely risk-free. But what can we do about it at a local level? How can we influence change that improves our air quality and lowers our level of risk?
Community organizations and lobby groups across the world have sprung into action, enacting a series of air quality mitigation strategies aimed at reducing harm. Among other goals, these initiatives seek to lower vehicle emissions, promote energy-efficient fuels, and populate urban areas with more green spaces. Here are some of the more popular ways communities can curb the effects of air pollution and preserve public health.
Where We’re Going, We Don’t Need Roads
Vehicle emissions are responsible for up to 70% of environmental pollution, pumping several harmful pollutants (including CO, NO2, VOCs, and particulate matter) into the surrounding air. It follows that any reduction in vehicle use will lead to an improvement in pollution levels. Air quality mitigation strategies in this area center around a movement toward ‘active transport.’ Here, local governments aim to promote walking and cycling networks through a combination of cycle lanes, pedestrian-only areas, increased access to affordable public bike services, and charges on vehicles that do not meet emissions benchmarks. A recent example of the latter is London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone, where motorists who don’t meet strict emissions standards are subject to a daily charge. Since establishing this scheme, the number of residents exposed to NO2 levels exceeding legal limits has been reduced by 94%. A San Francisco study aimed at quantifying the health benefits of transportation strategies targeting emissions found that “active transport has the potential to substantially lower both the burden of disease and carbon emissions.”
By ensuring real-time air quality data is made available, local governments can empower citizens to choose travel routes that minimize exposure to harmful pollutants. Active transport may not always be possible, but drivers can still limit their own emissions by optimizing their driving style. Adjustments include avoiding rapid accelerations/decelerations, restricting engine idling, and carrying out regular maintenance. Through a combination of individual responsibility and lobbying local governments, we can all do our part to limit the impact of vehicle emissions in our communities.
Fuelling Positive Change Starts at Home
The burning of biomass fuels (such as wood burners) can be a significant source of particulate matter. These traditional fuel sources tend to have a low combustion efficiency and can be hazardous to the surrounding environment and population. By adopting cleaner fuels such as biogas (methane), liquid petroleum gas (LPG), or by using electric or solar cookers, we can markedly reduce such emissions. A recent WHO study found that the burning of solid household fuels accounted for up to 90% of ambient PM2.5 in New Zealand across the winter months and anywhere between 10%-70% of annual PM2.5 in Canada.
We can make further positive environmental impacts by creating more energy-efficient homes. Solar-reflective outdoor coatings, improving insulation, and painting external surfaces in lighter colors are all ways to regulate your indoor climate and dramatically reduce your energy use. To ensure your indoor air quality is protected, always keep cooking areas well ventilated.
Green Spaces Build Cleaner Communities
City planners and community groups can help offset the harmful effects of particulate matter and other pollutants by building more green spaces. Urban beautification not only succeeds in making cities more attractive to live in (encouraging a more compact commuter population and greater energy efficiency), it can also reduce the overall concentration of pollutants through increased roadside vegetation.
A recent study carried out by U.S. EPA researchers examined the effects of installing a wide vegetation barrier featuring a high leaf area density versus a combination of vegetation with a solid barrier. Both designs were shown to significantly reduce the concentration of downwind particulate matter. But how do we know where vegetation will be most effective? How do we best allocate resources for maximum impact in achieving air quality mitigation goals? Before we can enact these initiatives to improve air quality, we must first measure it.
Accurate Measurement Empowers Action
Designing cities with air pollution in mind without first measuring it would be a bit like trying to answer a question you’ve yet to hear. Whether by establishing a network of fixed air quality monitors or deploying monitors of the portable variety, improving air quality begins with understanding the exact nature of the problem in your area.
Real-time data provides a dynamic picture of pollutant levels, facilitating a targeted approach to air quality mitigation. Whether you’re a government organization looking to obtain defensible data to put residents at ease, a lobbyist seeking to pressure policymakers into action, or a community group wanting to build awareness through education, making a positive impact starts with effective air quality measurement.
Want to find out more?
Aeroqual has helped hundreds of community and government organizations all over the world better understand their air quality through accurate, real-time measurement. To find out more about our technology or to speak with one of the Aeroqual team, please get in touch!
St. John is responsible for supporting Aeroqual’s diverse international customers and representatives to provide each with tools to help them understand the air they breathe. With experience across a range of industries and an industrial design background, he regularly adds a bit of “colour” to the marketing and strategic direction for his range of products.