Urban air pollution hot spot tracker could save lives

Guangzhou, China

University researchers and businesses in the UK and China are working together to provide real time street-level air pollution information to people living in China’s third-most populous city.

The project will develop models to forecast air quality on a street-by-street basis in Guangzhou, China, with the end goal being a publicly-accessible app enabling businesses, environmental monitoring agencies, and members of the public to see where air pollution levels are at their highest.

Bringing together UK start up business NAQTS,  and Chinese business partner Bojin Ltd,  with Lancaster University, the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Guangdong Environmental Monitoring Centre, the project is jointly funded by Innovate UK, the Newton Fund, and the Province of Guangdong.

In a megacity of more than 14 million, the promise of street-by-street information about air pollution in real time could help provide a public information service, but it could also furnish businesses with the information they need to ensure their employees are safe and environmental monitoring agencies with the data they need to tackle the problem.

For Guangzhou, one of China’s most important car manufacturing hubs, the development could be particularly significant.

At a time in which – according to the World Health Organization - seven million people die every year prematurely from the effects of air pollution, the development could even save lives.

The system will bring together conventional air quality monitoring data, real-time traffic flow, meteorological data, high-resolution mobile air pollution mapping using NAQTS’ integrated air quality monitoring technology, as well as other big data sources.

Ultimately, the partners also hope to develop an app which would enable members of the public to see street by street what is happening with local pollution levels, resulting in an empowered general public, that through behavioural change can minimise their exposures.

The consortium plans to take their learning from China back to the UK to help address some of the UK's significant air quality issues.

For example, it is estimated that nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter are responsible for between 28-36,000 premature deaths a year in the UK.

 If these figures are correct, only smoking is a greater public health killer, with air pollution being responsible for more premature deaths than alcohol and obesity.

This public health crisis is being experienced all over the country, as more than 40 towns and cities in the UK are at , or have exceeded, air pollution limits recommended by the World Health Organization, from Manchester and Swansea, to London and Bristol.

Lancaster University’s Professor Kevin Jones is one of the world’s leading experts in chemical pollution and has had a long-standing research collaboration with the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

He said: “We have been working with CAS for many years on shared environmental research interests so we were in a good position to create connections between a UK small business with an interest in this area and people in China working on similar problems. Air pollution monitoring in Guangzhou is already very sophisticated, much more so than in most of the UK. This is a very ambitious project, delivering such detailed data in real time, street by street is something quite special.”

Douglas Booker, Co-Founder & CEO of NAQTS, said: “The public policy implications of improving our understanding of air quality in urban environments down to such a granular level are huge. This exciting new application of our air quality monitoring technology will help Guangzhou to better understand its air, leading to transformative improvements in air quality science, public awareness, and policy. Our technology’s measurement of a range of different harmful pollutants, including ultrafine particles, will help to a paint a holistic picture of the air quality in Guangzhou. As air pollution “hot-spots” often change in space and time in our urban environments, so must our methods to accurately measure it.

“We hope that what we learn in China will also be of benefit to people in polluted urban environments around the world, including the UK.”

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