Susan Smith has worked as an editor and writer in the technology industry for over 16 years. As an editor she has been responsible for the launch of a number of technology trade publications, both in print and online. Currently, Susan is the Editor of GISCafe and AECCafe, as well as those sites’ … More »
Every Breath You Take: BBC Showcases Clean Air Initiatives with EarthSense Air Pollution Sensors
January 18th, 2018 by Susan Smith
In a recent BBC TV broadcast, EarthSense Systems, in close collaboration with resident groups, television producers and personality Dr Xand van Tulleken, went to the Kings Heath suburb of Birmingham, UK in December 2017 to demonstrate the air pollution challenges faced by typical urban communities with busy shopping areas and congested major streets.
According to the press materials, as part of a day long campaign of action, residents were urged to leave their cars at home, instead using public transport or walking or cycling for the daily commute and school runs. Volunteers carried out people and traffic surveys and Dr Xand van Tulleken showed his support presenting for the BBC TV programme “Fighting for Air” which aired on January 10th. The experiment utilized special air pollution sensors, developed by EarthSense, which monitored changes in air pollution on the day compared to recordings elsewhere in Birmingham.
Air pollution causes 40,000 early deaths each year in the UK. It has been determined that 16 of UK cities have illegal level of toxic fumes. It is estimated in one study that air pollution costs the UK £20 billion a year in medical costs and lost labor.
In a demonstration, Dr. Xand van Tuileken donned a military grade mask with filters designed for chemical warfare. He said that, “at the moment I am breathing the cleanest air possible.” The air contains high levels of harmful pollution, from industry, construction, but in there in Birmingham, mostly from vehicles.
“To test just how dangerous the air we breathe is, I am first having to “detox” . Free my body from pollution,” said van Tuileken.
Once the mask was removed, Dr. Miller analyzed Dr. van Tuileken’s blood, recorded his heart rate and even tested how well his brain was working.
Both men concluded that:
“What we did see was consistently higher blood pressure once you’d had your period of exposure. Your blood was a little bit more likely to clot so it was a little bit thicker.
If you have a slightly higher blood pressure your arteries are a little bit more constricted, a little bit more tense. And that is the sort of thing you would see perhaps if you’re aging, when you get a bit older. If you’re someone with heart disease, that does actually increase your risk of having a heart attack.”
Van Tuileken said: “I guess to me that is very shocking. They’re very small changes but my arteries have got a bit stiffer, my blood pressure has gone up and my blood has got stickier. I would be very worried about those changes. And what about the cognition tests? Is my thinking worse than it was before?”
“There were signs that your thinking was slower, a little dampened down, not quite as sharp as you would have been before you had the air pollution exposure,” said Dr. Miller.
“We need to reinvent our high streets and communities to encourage relaxing and enjoyable environments, and clean and healthy air is a key part of the package. The EarthSense air quality sensors provide a tangible way of recording and presenting evidence which can be used to plan and promote further initiatives,” commented Professor Roland Leigh, Technical Director of EarthSense Systems. “This programme clearly demonstrates the positive outcomes that can be achieved as a result of community action.”
A number of people showed up for the meeting on air pollution in Kings Heath. Concerns arose about restricting traffic and its affect on local businesses, if roads were closed to reduce air pollution from traffic. Some business owners felt that air quality was more important to the quality of life of their customers. Some locals think pollution is better than it was in the past. Some people thought that the lack of parking created congestion.
In the run up to the community initiative EarthSense used its state-of-the-art Zephyr air quality monitoring sensors to measure the base line of air pollution along the busy Kings Heath High Street and outside St Dunstan’s Catholic Primary School. Results showed consistently high readings across the course of each of the proceeding 3 days with peaks in Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) during rush hour and school drop off and pick-ups.
The Zephyr sensor used by EarthSense to capture real time air pollutions measurements is compact, lightweight and portable, and can be operated in static or mobile mode. Measuring pollutants such as Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) and Ozone (O3), the Zephyr can also be calibrated to measure Particulate Matter (PM), Sulphur Dioxide (SO2) and Carbon Monoxide (CO).
Spearheaded by the Residents Forum, the Kings Heath Clean Air Day promoted ‘leave your car at home’ and took place on December 1, 2017. During the course of the day the EarthSense Zephyrs captured real time measurements of air pollution and, when compared with the previous days’ results, it became apparent that the community action had achieved significant reductions in NO2. Building on the Kings Heath’s project success EarthSense has launched a range air quality community packages that are available for pre-order.
Their efforts to reduce NO2 resulted in 10% reduction on that day to Kings Heath. Around St. Dunstan’s School the effort to get people out of their cars resulted in a 30% reduction during drop off and pick up.