Apps to track air pollution: AirCare, AirNow, AirVisual, Breezometer

The bootleg fire is raging in 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 rise in forest fires is raising new air pollution concerns.

The National Interagency Fire Center reported that there were 107 major active fires on Aug. 8, which so far this year had burned more than 2.2 million acres inland in 15 states. In Europe, forest fires are now raging in Greece and Turkey amid record heat waves.

As a result, more and more people are turning to mobile apps to understand when the air quality is better or worse, wherever they are. These apps use a mix of data from government-operated satellites or weather, fire, and ambient air quality stations, as well as sensors and systems operated by private sector companies. Some are even crowdsourced from relatively affordable air quality sensors from companies like PurpleAir and IQAir.

Air quality apps

According to Sensor Tower’s Senior Mobile Insights Analyst Jonathan Briskman, the top-rated apps for outdoor air quality monitoring in the US between January 2020 and July 2021 were: AirCare, AirVisual and South Coast AQMD, based on reviews from the App Store, and GooglePlay .

The AirCare app shows air pollution, active fires, wind conditions and pollen count on a map.

CNBC

Here’s what these three apps do:

  • AirCare, Developed by developers in North Macedonia, it is available for iOS and Android mobile devices, including iPhones, iPads, Apple Watch and Huawei smartphones. The tiers include a free, ad-supported version, an ad-free 99-cent version, and at the premium level, an annual subscription of $ 14.99 for a Pro version. The app includes kid-friendly air pollution information, graphs, and maps that show pollutant levels derived from government-operated sensors and stations, as well as PurpleAir and other sensors used by volunteers in the US, Europe, and Australia. In some large metropolitan areas, the app also tracks UV and pollen levels.
  • AirVisual, of the Swiss air quality company IQAir, tracks air pollution in more than 10,000 cities and 80 countries using data from tens of thousands of sensors, some of which are located at US 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 concentrations of six different types of major pollutants, IQAir’s AirVisual and mobile website offer seven-day air pollution and weather forecasts, as well as air pollution news and health information. The apps can be paired with the company’s own sensors, including the portable AirVisual Pro, which sells for around $ 269.
  • South coast AQMD, is a free and ad-free app operated by the local air pollution agency of the same name in southern California that tracks air pollution in particular in Orange County, Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino. It offers real-time and forecasted air quality and weather conditions, as well as maps showing where drivers can charge their electric vehicles or find other non-traditional gas stations. It also includes information on upcoming local events and policy hearings on air quality issues to encourage community participation. The app is available in both English and Spanish for Apple and Android devices.

The South Coast AQMD app displays air pollution in the greater Los Angeles area.

CNBC

According to Sensor Tower, the five most popular air quality apps in the US, based on installations since early 2020, include two of these top-rated apps, AirVisual (from IQ Air) and Air Care, as well as the agency’s US environmental protection agency The AirNow app , an app from venture-backed startup Breezometer that displays air quality, pollen, and active fire data, and an app called Oregon Air that was developed for the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.

The use of these apps and new installations are often driven by regional events. There were 16 major active fires in Oregon on August 23, 2021, according to the NIFC.

How air pollution affects health

Monitoring and measuring air quality are critical to public health, says Yanelli Nunez, a postdoctoral fellow 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 and health science laboratory with Marianthi-Anna Kioumourtzoglou. Their research has also found that long-term exposure to air pollution can affect the nervous system and affect functions such as memory and cognitive abilities.

The scientists wrote in an email to CNBC, “Americans who live in areas with poor air quality are typically colored people or low-income communities. We are finally starting to pay more attention to these issues, which hopefully will lead to change. The composition of air pollution is also changing. “

In one example, greenhouse gas emissions from traffic in New York City decreased from 2014 to 2017, while emissions from commercial cooking increased.

As forest fires widened, scientists wrote, “The sources and composition of the air pollution mixture we experience could affect our health differently, so we need to better understand the source-specific effects, especially for these newly prominent sources.”

Indoor air is also important

While outdoor air quality is important, society doesn’t talk or do enough about indoor air quality, said Richard Corsi, the new dean of UC Davis’s College of Engineering, currently a professor and dean at Portland State University.

Using pre-pandemic numbers, Corsi explained that the average American would spend almost 70 out of 79 years of their life indoors. “Because we spend so much time indoors, even our exposure to pollutants outdoors is dominated by what we breathe there, especially in our homes,” he said.

Pollutants in the open air, for example from vehicles with internal combustion engines, photochemical smog, refineries and forest fires, can get into apartments and buildings when doors and windows are opened, when heating and air conditioning systems are used or through other cracks in the building.

Consumer apps and devices today don’t give users absolute, precise measurements down to micrograms per cubic meter of a given pollutant, Corsi noted. But they are very valuable for identifying trends and relative changes in air quality.

Sensors placed indoors can work well to check that protective measures are working to improve the air in a home, school, or other building.

Some other simple measures that can protect or improve indoor air quality, according to Corsi, especially during the forest fire season: wet mopping floors and wiping surfaces to keep pollutants from building up, using HEPA or highly efficient particulate air filters, and increasing the MERV or minimum efficiency report value of filters in central air systems in a house.

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