Air Quality in Cities

Ensuring clean air is one of the most important assignments for any government. In Mexico, the NOM-156-SEMARNAT-2012 regulation mandates that all cities that have more than half a million inhabitants, or that have a certain industrial and / or automobile activities, must monitor the concentration of emissions to the atmosphere and generate reports on a regular basis. However, there are many cities that yet do not have the infrastructure or, if they do, they do not have the human resources to do so consistently. Furthermore, according to the 2016 Environment Report of the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT in spanish), “Not all cities that have monitoring systems have sufficient or reliable data that allow examining the evolution of pollutant concentrations and therefore, the quality of the air in long periods of time ”.

How can we know the concentration of pollutants to which citizens are exposed in their daily commute to the city; either by car, transit, cycling or by foot?

The current technology, used by most cities to measure air pollution, are stationary/fixed air quality monitoring stations. (see right figure). These, however, represent high capital and operating costs. They are regularly located in a few spots of the city and several meters high in relation to pollution observed at street level. This configuration, however, does not reveal the localized and punctual contamination that people may experience in their daily commute. In addition, the data generated only indicates the air quality by specific area and height and not the pollution that is recorded at a block level. Current solutions do not provide granularity, in terms of higher spatial-temporal resolution of air quality data.

potential solution are the low-cost portable devices. Solutions which increase granularity and hyper spatial resolution of air quality data. They can measure pollutants at street level and are usually calibrated against the official reference (e.g. other fixed environmental monitoring stations); data is normally sent over a cloud base data platform. This option, in addition to being accessible in terms of cost, streamlines the analysis and visualization of pollutants for different transport modes. Either by private car, transit, cycling or by foot. Through the cloud data platform the dynamics of pollutant concentrations can be observed in detail, street by street, and it is possible to identify specific sources or “hot spots” of contamination. The generation of reports and visualizations, with hyper-resolution of air quality at street level, can be consulted or acceded  by citizens or governments. The information has the objective to empower decision makers and help them generate concrete actions and/or validate public policy strategies aimed at improving air quality for all.

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