BLOG: Engaging Citizens in Air Quality Monitoring

16 June 2020 - Published by SCORE comms
SCORE partners are looking at how low cost IoT sensors can be used by citizens to monitor air quality in their communities. The City of Gothenburg and Johanneberg Science Park have run workshops as part of the International Science Festival 2019 showing how to construct affordable air quality devices as part of the LOV-IoT internet of things project and in Bradford, the University and City Council have collaborated in running workshops in local schools.

By Sydney Simpson, City of Bradford

Poor air quality is the largest single environmental risk to public health in the UK. Long-term exposure to air pollution can cause chronic conditions such as cardiovascular and respiratory diseases including lung cancer, leading to reduced life expectancy. 

In the UK the Government requires municipalities with areas of poor air quality such as Bradford to implement schemes to reduce air pollution for example by establishing clean air zones.

These workshops help raise awareness of the health impacts of poor air quality and future work by the University will be to extend their focus to include the impact of indoor air quality.

SCORE partners are liaising with the Born in Bradford community health project, Breathe Better Bradford and the Open Data Institute Leeds to ensure the maximum benefit from these studies.

The air we breathe is not as clean as it should be for the good health of people and the environment. It is contaminated from many different sources locally, nationally and globally such as traffic, open fires, industry, agriculture and the chemicals we use in our everyday lives.

These produce a range of harmful pollutants:

  • microscopic particles (PM2.5, PM10) that make up smoke and dust from exhausts, brakes and tyres.
  • gasses such as nitrogen oxides (NOX) from burning fossil fuels and ammonia (NH3) from agricultural waste, slurry and fertiliser.
  • other gasses and vapours referred to as non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCS) from every day products we use at work or home like petrol, solvents, air fresheners, cleaning products and perfumes.

Some of these pollutants, or the processes that produce them, also contribute to climate change so improving air quality may also help reduce the production of greenhouse gasses.

Air pollution affects both respiratory function and circulatory health by causing inflammation. Smaller particles can also pass through the lungs into the blood causing heart attacks, strokes and other circulatory conditions. The effects can be short term, just lasting for the period of high pollution concentrations, but there are also long term impacts from a lower level of exposure over the course of our lives.

Vulnerable groups such as young children, the elderly and those with heart or breathing problems such as asthma are particularly affected.

Deprived communities are more likely to suffer from poor air quality because they are generally more exposed to air pollution, for example, by being close to major roads and have a higher incidence of existing health problems.

This video featuring Born in Bradford highlights the problems.

In Bradford, up to 687 of annual childhood asthma cases may be attributable to air pollution (38% of the total amount) Born in Bradford, 10 Key Findings. Version 2 28.01.2019.

Total preventable deaths attributed to man-made particulate air pollution In Bradford are estimated to be ~220 per year Gowers, Miller and Stedman (2014) - "Estimating local mortality burdens associated with particulate air pollution", Public Health England

Bradford Council and the University of Bradford will be collaborating with ODI Leeds to host #AirHack2 in September to look at:

  • devices to measure air quality
  • the availability and use-ability of existing air quality data
  • projects measuring and sharing air pollution levels
  • how to raise awareness, involve and empower citizens
  • current community health initiatives focussing on air pollution
  • proposals to address air pollution e.g. Clean Air Zones


Video by Born In Bradford