We continuously hear about how air pollution is linked to almost every aspect of human health – study after study is published linking bad air to disease and illness. Most recently, even to the potential spread and severity of COVID-19! Not only that, air pollution also has a massive economic cost.
Based on our research and experience, we believe that the first step to reducing your exposure, and ultimately solving a complex problem like air pollution, is to understand it – by observing, measuring, analysing, and then taking action.
Once we can measure something, we have a shared starting point for moving forward.
So what do we know about air pollution? We know it’s highly variable – over time and space. We know it’s hyperlocal – think personal-space local. We know there are different types of pollutants that come from different places and that they all behave differently.
Above is a list of the pollutants that make up most of what we think of as air pollution.
It’s important to know what kind of pollutants you are being exposed to because they all affect our health differently. Starting from the top of the list we have particulate matter – basically fine dust that is referred to by its size – PM10 being the largest (even visible to the naked eye) down to PM1 that is so tiny it can pass through your lung tissue into the bloodstream.
Then we get into the gasses. Nitrogen dioxide (most commonly associated with car exhaust) and volatile organic compounds (a family of indoor pollutants that come from chemicals like cleaning products, hand sanitiser, new furniture and other products that off-gas). Finally on the list is ground level ozone – the main component of photochemical smog.
So how do you make sense of all these types of pollution when you think of your health? To make it easier to figure out how bad the air actually is, experts usually use an Air Quality Index or AQI when they talk about air pollution.
What is an AQI? Basically just a scale of numbers where (usually) the higher the number, the more polluted the air is. There are lots of different AQI – usually linked to a regulatory framework and vary based on local laws and what is considered acceptable. For example the EU vs the US EPA vs the Canadian AQIs.
Why did we create our own AQI? Air quality is a planet level problem – we want people to be able to quickly compare information from all over the world, in a health focused context. The Plume Labs AQI is based on WHO exposure thresholds. The higher the number, the less time it is safe to spend in that environment.
So what do you do with all this new found knowledge? Follow the thread to learn more about: indoor air quality, staying safe outside during a pollution peak, using data to take action against air pollution, and more.