Real-Time Air Quality Monitoring: A Step Toward Cleaner, Healthier Communities

Air pollution is a major global concern, especially in underserved and minority communities. However, the live data and alert systems built into real-time air quality monitoring systems are inspiring change for communities.

Air pollution is a global concern, with nearly 90% of the world's population being exposed to air contaminated by dust, smoke, fumes, and other pollutants. However, we are often unaware that we are breathing polluted air until it's too late, and the associated side effects begin to manifest.

To protect our health and the environment, it’s necessary to measure air quality using real-time air quality monitoring systems. Doing so gives us deep and accurate insights about existing air pollutants and informs decision-making to ensure we take the proper steps to enjoy the cleanest air possible.

What Are Real-Time Air Quality Monitoring Systems?

Real-time air quality monitoring systems are outfitted with sensors capable of detecting specific pollutants in the air like carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide, sulfur dioxides, carbon dioxide, and the level of dust particles. Data from the sensors is automatically transmitted to a central management dashboard in real time for collection and reporting purposes. There, it is analyzed to understand the causes and fluctuations in air pollution. Unlike other types of air monitoring solutions, real-time systems offer more accurate and reliable data since they produce high-resolution measurements within a short period, offering more up-to-date data.

Using real-time air quality monitoring systems enables you to accurately identify patterns and causes of air pollution in a given area. In addition, the live data and alert systems built into the systems ensure that you can promptly respond to alarming pollution levels and mitigate the issue before it negatively impacts people or the environment. 

Air Quality Monitoring In The US

Engineer at factory monitoring air quality

In 1963, The Clean Air Act was introduced as the first federal legislation regarding air pollution control. However, essential and significant amendments were added to it in 1970 and 1990. The landmark Clean Air Act is a comprehensive law aimed at reducing ambient and source-specific air pollution. This has helped the country avoid up to 370,000 premature deaths annually and significantly reduced air pollution levels for over a half-century, especially that of hazardous soot.

Air quality monitoring is a vital tool for helping us understand the dangers of air pollution, and the Clean Air Act serves as the key driver for all air pollution control policies in the US. The Clean Air Act put the National Ambient Air Quality Standards in place and determines how much pollution can be allowed by different industries in different regions. In addition, states are required to monitor the air quality, and the data obtained is used to:

  • Measure compliance and progress made toward meeting ambient air quality standards
  • Activate emergency control procedures to prevent or alleviate air pollution episodes
  • Track pollution trends throughout the country 
  • Provide a database for research evaluation of the effects of air pollution

In addition, the Clean Air Act also helped the US develop plans to achieve the set standards. There is an interactive 'air data' map that you can use to view the air quality throughout the US, but it still has some significant drawbacks, like the need for up-to-date information on air quality and limited air monitoring stations. 

How Do Real-Time Air Quality Monitoring Systems Work?

Real-time air quality monitoring systems have two main elements: air quality sensors and software. The two elements are integrated to automate data collection and reporting so that experts can concentrate on interpreting and analyzing the findings to improve air quality. To get continuous monitoring reports, wireless sensors are placed at the locations you want to monitor for air quality. All data the sensors  collect is transmitted to a gateway that forwards it to a cloud database. The information can then be accessed or shared through a mobile or web-based app. The information picked up by the sensors will vary depending on the type of sensor. For example, some sensors can pick up on just one type of pollutant, while others can pick up multiple pollutants. These systems may also include an alert feature that issues notifications when threshold values of different contaminants are reached.

The Impact of Real-Time Air Quality Monitors on Communities

apartment complexes in front of a park

The data obtained from continuous air quality monitoring is used in different ways to help control and eliminate the dangers associated with air pollution. For example, many communities can benefit from real-time air quality monitoring in the following ways:

  • Health experts can use the data to ascertain the effects air pollutants have on public health and safety. 
  • Effective air quality monitoring helps address specific sources of pollution and devise measures to stop or control the pollution.
  • Equipped with timely and accurate data, residents, stakeholders and policymakers can make better and more informed decisions. They can also determine if an area is meeting the required air quality standards and, if not, what is hindering them from doing so.
  • Data  reports also form the basis for research which can help show the correlation between pollution and health outcomes, and how improving air quality can improve the quality of life.

  • Real-time air quality monitoring encourages response to situations that would turn disastrous if left to wait. 

Implementing Real-Time Air Quality Monitoring In Underserved Communities

According to WHO, 94% of deaths linked to air pollution occur in low and middle-income areas. This is because these areas often lack air pollution monitoring programs, making it hard to tell if the laws put in place are combating air pollution equally across cities. In addition to the less stringent air pollution regulations in these areas, oftentime there are more vehicles in these neighborhoods, a high use of inefficient household fuel, and a disproportionate presence of industrial plants and transport corridors; these are all contributors to increased air pollution. 

Many underserved communities lacking proper air quality monitoring programs are often near sources of pollution, like power plants and factories. They may also have a higher concentration of vulnerable populations such as children, the elderly, and low-income individuals. Advocating for changes that can improve the air quality in communities that are not necessarily regulatory can significantly impact air quality. By simply providing the correct information, people can be more motivated to take actions that will help reduce air pollution and create a healthier and safer environment.

Real-Time Air Quality Monitoring In Action

Air pollution is a significant factor affecting the quality of life as it poses a risk to human health and the environment. It is, therefore, essential to implement programs that constantly check the pollution level in the air to know when the levels have exceeded the permissible limit. JustAir helps raise awareness about the risks of air pollution and provides communities with the tools and knowledge to help keep their air clean. By partnering with us, you will learn about the sensors and monitoring networks that collect air quality data for the public and access information on air quality and health disparities within your community.

Darren Riley
February 21, 2023
Subscribe to our newsletter!

Sign up for our newsletter to get all the Just Air updates, information, and news.