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South east Londoners are being encouraged to keep an eye on the area’s air quality by borrowing new low-tech pollution-sensing technology from Goldsmiths, University of London researchers.
Air pollution is a major cause for concern in London - a recent study indicated that some 9,500 people die in the capital each year due to long-term exposure to particulate matter and the toxic gas nitrogen dioxide.
Particulate matter consists of a wide range of materials, from salt and silica to diesel, pollen, and carbon – at times congealed with volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
For six months from 29 October 2016 to April 2017, Dr Jennifer Gabrys (Principal Investigator on the Citizen Sense project) and researchers Helen Pritchard and Lara Houston, will provide ‘Dustbox’ sensors – air particulate matter monitoring kits – available for free loan from the library at Deptford Lounge.
The Dustboxes, which resemble pollution particles when viewed under an electron microscope, are designed by Citizen Sense and are made of 3D-printed ceramic. They also contain an optical PM 2.5 (particulate matter) sensor, Wi-Fi connectivity, a microcontroller, and a miniature fan to ensure constant airflow.
Developed with electronics designer Adrian McEwen and materials designer Francesca Perona, the 3D-printed Dustbox will collect air pollution data, which will then be piped to Citizen Sense’s Airsift online toolkit (developed with Lau Thiam Kok).
The particulate data will then be compared to other nearby data, and data on weather conditions, including temperature, humidity, wind speed and wind direction.
Dr Gabrys and her team have found that many parts of New Cross and Deptford are not monitored, and yet there is considerable traffic and construction activity that could be contributing to air quality problems.
Citizen Sense is working with local residents to scope out the area and locate the most suitable sites for air quality monitoring in relation to local concerns about the changing environment.
To launch the Dustbox monitoring research, Citizen Sense will host a workshop and walk on 29 October 2016. The workshop will host speakers including Leonie Cooper, chair of the London Assembly’s environment committee and former co-chair of SERA, the Labour Environment Campaign.
In an earlier environmental sensing study, Citizen Sense community monitoring ran in Pennsylvania, USA, where citizen-collected data showed the damaging environmental impact that fracking has made in people’s backyards.
“Deptford has a number of strong and engaged community organisations and residents actively working on improving their local environment. We’re looking forward to collaborating with them to better understand the impact of their changing urban environment,” says Dr Gabrys.
The Dustbox data will be available on the Citizen Sense website through their Airsift data analysis toolkit.