The Bootleg Fire sweeps across the central state of Oregon in Klamath County, Oregon, in this July 13, 2021 image taken from social media.
Oregon State Fire Marshal | via Reuters
Air quality in the United States and Europe has improved over the past decade thanks to stricter environmental regulations, but the intensification of wildfires raises new concerns about air pollution.
The National Interagency Fire Center reported that, as of Aug. 8, there were 107 active large fires that had burned more than 2.2 million acres nationwide in 15 states so far this year. In Europe, forest fires in Greece and Turkey are also breaking out amid record heat waves.
As a result, more people are turning to mobile apps to understand when air quality is better or worse, wherever they are. These applications use a combination of data from government-operated satellites or weather, fire and ambient air quality stations, as well as sensors and systems managed by private sector entities. Some even come from relatively affordable air quality sensors sold by companies like PurpleAir and IQAir.
Air quality applications
According to Sensor Tower’s senior mobile information analyst Jonathan Briskman, the top-rated apps for outdoor air quality monitoring in the US between January 2020 and July 2021 have been: AirCare, AirVisual, and South Coast AQMD , based on App Store ratings. and Google Play.
The AirCare app shows air pollution, active fires, wind conditions, and pollen levels on a map.
Here’s what those three apps do:
- Air care, Made by developers in North Macedonia, it is available for iOS and Android mobile devices, including iPhones, iPads, Apple Watch, and Huawei smartphones, among many others. Tiers include a free ad-supported version, a 99-cent ad-free version, and at the premium tier, a $ 14.99 annual subscription for a professional version. The app includes air pollution information, charts, and maps for kids showing pollutant levels derived from government-run sensors and stations, along with volunteer PurpleAir and other sensors in the US, Europe, and Australia. . In some major metropolitan areas, the app also tracks pollen and UV levels.
- AirVisual, Conducted by Swiss air quality company IQAir, it tracks air pollution in more than 10,000 cities and 80 countries based on data from tens of thousands of sensors, some located at U.S. embassies abroad. The company’s free mobile apps are also ad-free and available for iOS and Android devices. In addition to real-time maps showing the levels of six different types of major pollutants, IQAir’s AirVisual and mobile website provides seven-day air pollution and weather predictions, along with pollution-related news and health information. from air. The apps can be paired with the company’s own sensors, including the portable AirVisual Pro that retails for around $ 269.
- South Coast AQMD, is a free, ad-free app run by the local Southern California air pollution agency of the same name and tracks air pollution in Orange County, Los Angeles, Riverside, and San Bernardino specifically. It features air quality and weather conditions predicted in real time, and maps showing where drivers can charge their electric vehicles or find other non-traditional service stations. It also includes information on upcoming local events and political hearings related to air quality issues to encourage community involvement. The application is available in English and Spanish for Apple and Android devices.
The South Coast AQMD app displays air pollution levels in Greater Los Angeles.
The five most popular air quality apps in the U.S., facility-based since early 2020, according to Sensor Tower, included two of those top-rated apps, AirVisual (from IQ Air) and Air Care, as well as the U.S. environmental protection.The AirNow agency app, an app from the startup Breezometer that displays air quality, pollen, and active fire data, and an app called Oregon Air developed for the Department of Environmental Quality from Oregon.
The use of these applications and new installations are often driven by regional events. As of August 8, 2021, there were 16 active large fires in Oregon according to the NIFC.
How Air Pollution Affects Health
Monitoring and measuring air quality is critical to public health, says Yanelli Nunez, a postdoctoral research scientist at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.
She notes that robust studies have shown that air pollution contributes to lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and lower respiratory infections, and even affects mortality, pregnancy outcomes, and cardiovascular disease.
Nunez works in an environmental health science lab with Marianthi-Anna Kioumourtzoglou. His research has also found that prolonged exposure to air pollution can affect the nervous system and can influence functions such as memory or cognitive abilities.
The scientists wrote in an email to CNBC: “Americans who live in areas of poor air quality tend to be people of color or low-income communities. We are finally starting to pay more attention to these issues, which will hopefully lead to change. The composition of air pollution is also changing. “
In one example, greenhouse gas emissions from transportation decreased in New York City from 2014 to 2017, while emissions from commercial kitchens increased.
With the rise of wildfires, the scientists wrote: “The sources and composition of the air pollution mix we are experiencing could have a different impact on our health, so we need to better understand the specific effects of the source, especially for these new prominent sources ”.
Indoor air matters too
While outdoor air quality is important, society doesn’t talk or do enough about indoor air quality, said Richard Corsi, incoming dean of the UC Davis college of engineering, currently a professor and dean of Portland State University. .
Using pre-pandemic numbers, Corsi explained that the average American would spend nearly 70 of their 79 years of life domiciled inside buildings. “Because we spend so much time indoors, even our exposure to outdoor pollutants is dominated by what we breathe there, especially in our homes,” he said.
Exterior pollutants from internal combustion engine vehicles, photochemical smog, refineries and wildfires can enter homes and buildings when doors and windows are opened, when heating and air conditioning systems are used, or through other cracks in the building. about.
Today’s consumer applications and devices do not provide users with an absolute and accurate measurement of up to micrograms per cubic meter of a given pollutant, Corsi noted. But they are very valuable for detecting trends and relative changes in air quality.
Sensors installed indoors can work well to check if protective measures are working to improve the air inside a home, school, or other building.
Especially during wildfire season, Corsi said, some other simple actions that can protect or improve indoor air quality include: wet mopping floors and cleaning surfaces so pollutants don’t build up, using HEPA or air filters. Efficiency Particulate Filter and increase the MERV or Minimum Efficiency Report Value of filters in a home’s central air systems.