Glasgow’s Air Quality During COP26 Was Almost 10x Better Than European Counterparts
With the WHO’s revised, much more challenging air quality guidelines, many more cities are finding themselves falling well below what’s considered “healthy”.
The release from Pollutrack points to Glasgow being among one of the best cities for air quality in the twenty that they’ve studied, including Paris, Madrid, London, Dublin, Hamburg, Rotterdam, Lisbon, Bologna, Manchester, Birmingham, Prague.
What and how did they measure?
The company is using laser based detection equipment to basically “count” the amount of fine particulate matter floating around in the air – specifically a type of particle known as PM2.5. PM2.5 particles are a tenth the size of human cells, and known to be damaging to human health.
For more information on PM2.5 and other air pollutants, take a look at this article.
The company has partnered with a European parcel delivery company and installed their high-accuracy detection units in the vans that roam our streets. Through this partnership, they are able to take accurate air quality measurements in the places that matter the most – e.g. the place the citizens of the city actually spend time, the streets.
In doing this they have achieved the scale and precision of the hyper-local air quality measurements that I was experimenting with in 2018.
Why is hyper-local air quality data important?
Measuring air quality is an expensive and tricky business. Governments and city councils install and operate highly accurate, rigorously calibrated equipment at key locations across the country. These giant boxes can often be seen next to roadsides. They cost tens of thousands to purchase and more to keep them running.
Councils use other techniques to gather low-frequency data from other locations, and (normally) publish this data for open use – albeit often with months of delay.
This data is then consumed by algorithms, combined with other data (such as weather) to create predictions of what the air quality might be, in general, across a broad area such as a town.
As I mentioned in this article, the problem with this is that an individual’s experience, where they live, work or play might, and often is different.
What’s the drawback?
As I found out when testing my prototype, there are drawbacks with mobile air quality monitoring, and the biggest one is accuracy and calibration.
Speaking with Pollutrack, it seems they have solved this challenge by creating a hybrid solution that combines both mobile and fixed stations, that constantly calibrate with each other.
What’s important about their findings?
The headline focuses on COP26 and how during the event Glasgow’s air quality was one of only a few cities in their cohort that met or exceeded the revised WHO guidelines. That’s pretty impressive, however a scenic might argue that many roads were shut and there might well have been many more electric vehicles whizzing around than normal.
However, the other point they highlight is that London’s air quality was also remarkably low. Sure, it exceeded the WHO’s guidelines, but compared to the other cities, it did well with just 16µg/m³
The flip side of Glasgow’s win, is that other major European cities were experiencing significantly higher, prolonged ‘spikes’ in pollution. For example PM2.5 levels in Bologna, Paris, and Prague, frequently exceeded the WHO’s higher, short-term maximum 24-hour thresholds of 15µg/m³ with averages of 38, 39, and 42, respectively.
Air Quality in Paris
The image above shows the company’s collected air quality data between 9th Nov 2021 and 12 Nov 2021. They collected 116,903 data points, which when averaged show a pollution index of 39. That’s nearly eight times above the WHO’s recommended annual mean exposure and more than 2.5 times greater than the recommended 24-hour exposure (which, is recommended to be for less than 4 days a year).
Looking at the map, you can see there are a few green spots that indicate acceptable levels, but most of the samples are various shades of yellow, orange and red.
But there’s more. COVID…
This could make for worrying reading for those spending time in the great outdoors of some of Europes beloved cities.
Check out Pollutrack
I’m a big fan of the work Pollutrack are doing.
My experiments with creating a technology and methodology came to a halt when I realised I didn’t have the infrastructure or funding to create the industrial scale I needed to succeed. Pollutrack, on the other hand, have achieved this so I am really excited to follow what they are doing. If you are also interested in knowing about the air you breathe where you live, work and play, then I suggest you also keep an eye on them.