EPA Funds Research Into Low-Cost Air Quality Monitors

Over the past several years, many developers have released low-cost air pollution monitoring devices that are capable of measuring particulate matter, ozone and other pollutants.

While you can buy one of these devices to measure pollution levels in your home, or even buy a portable sensor that can measure pollution during your daily commute, many of these devices have not been widely tested, and there are questions about data accuracy and usefulness.

In order to address that, the Environmental Protection Agency announced yesterday that six research organizations will receive a combined $4.5 million in grant funding for projects designed to assess the accuracy of inexpensive air monitors and explore possible ways the sensors can be used to better inform communities about local air quality.

“Through these projects, scientists and communities will join together to develop and test new low-cost, portable, easy-to-use ways to measure air pollution,” said Thomas A. Burke, deputy assistant administrator of EPA’s Office of Research and Development. “This research will provide tools communities can use to understand air pollution in their neighborhoods and improve public health.”

The projects that EPA funded include a $750,000 monitoring program on Hawaii’s Big Island, where a network of low-cost monitors will be used to measure “volcanic smog” from the Kilauea Volcano.

Currently it’s difficult to estimate how much pollution residents of that island are exposed to because of the high variability of emissions from the volcano, so a low-cost monitoring network could help the community better assess exposure levels, according to the project abstract.

Curious about these low-cost air monitoring devices? Check out this Bloomberg BNA slideshow highlighting some of various devices on the market, some of which are being used to create community-populated maps of high pollution (kind of like Waze, but for air pollution instead of traffic).