August 2018

Air quality data monitoring – a continuous challenge

Many may take it for granted, but clean air can make a huge difference to the quality of life of residents and the appeal of a city for tourists and businesses.

Pollution in a metropolis can reach deadly levels if it allowed spiraling out of control.

The so-called pea soup fog was a menace in London for more than three centuries until the government was forced to act after the Great Smog of 1952 killed 4,000 people over a four-day period and led to the deaths of a further 6,000 – all in a time before cars clogged up the roads.

However, despite regulatory efforts and heightened awareness, pollution remains a serious problem in the modern world.

As recently as a decade ago, the Ontario Medical Association claimed that air pollution was a contributing factor towards almost 9,500 premature deaths in the Canadian province every year. Meanwhile in China, where more than 1.1 million people reportedly died due to toxic air in 2015, people still commonly walk the streets wearing face masks.

The challenges are particularly acute in cities where hot weather can linger without the rain to clear away the smog.

Air data priority

Louisville in the US state of Kentucky averages 38 days per year with scorching temperatures of more than 90 degrees Fahrenheit. However, fortunately for local residents and businesses, air quality has viewed as a priority by regional administrators for generations.

As far back as 1945, city officials formed the Louisville Smoke Commission to address growing concerns about air pollution. The commission evolved into the Air Pollution Control District (APCD), which is empowered by the State of Kentucky to enforce the federal Clean Air Act in Louisville and Jefferson County.

In a mammoth data-gathering and analyzing process, the APCD monitors the air for pollutants and then issues and enforces industrial air pollution permits whilst working with communities, local businesses, academics and other government agencies to develop policies.

The APCD’s data is presented to the public, as well as the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

“Clean air is vital to public health and measuring air quality helps us determine whether regulatory and voluntary efforts to reduce air pollution are working,” said Thomas Nord of the Louisville Metro Air Pollution Control District.

“The APCD operates a network of air monitoring stations that measure the amount of harmful pollutants in the ambient air. The data is shared with the public in real-time so citizens can be immediately informed about possible health impacts from air pollution as they go about their day.

“Once the monitoring data is quality assured, it is sent to the EPA for purposes of verifying whether Louisville is meeting the national air pollution standards.”

Data-led regulations

The air quality data is used to underpin regulations that are designed to restrict the impact of pollution on the local area.

“Without accurate air quality data, Louisville would not be able to legally enforce the air pollution standards and regulations that have been responsible for the vast improvements in air quality in the United States over the past 50 years,” Nord added.

Louisville, like many cities across the US and the developed western world, have enjoyed significant improvements in air quality over the years. However, looking to the future, collecting and analyzing ever-sharper datasets as part of the monitoring process will present an ongoing challenge.

“Clean air is a continuous improvement process. We are always striving for cleaner air today than the day before,” Nord added.

“We follow all EPA air monitoring mandates and we also solicit input from the community. For example, the APCD is in the process of implementing new equipment to measure levels of toxic air pollution around a complex of chemical factories in the city.

“This specific monitoring is not required by the Clean Air Act, but we are doing it in response to community members who sought more data on air quality in that part of town, as well as our own desire to know more about the air we are breathing.”

For more information about how GeoSpock can help cities to monitor air quality data efficiently as part of a smart city approach, click here.


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