New sensors to monitor deadly pollution levels in London’s poorest are


In 2013, 9-year-old Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah died after years of severe asthma attacks. In the years that followed, inquiries into the death of the girl, who had lived in the south-east London neighborhood of Lewisham, revealed that the cause of death was air pollution in the South Circular Road. , a neighboring main artery. She became the first person in the UK to have the cause of her death officially listed as ‘air pollution’.

Ella’s death, the coroner’s report and subsequent commissioned studies have drawn greater attention to air pollution in the UK capital, and in particular its disproportionate impact on low-income and minority communities . In an effort to improve and democratize air pollution data collection, a project funded by the Mayor of London and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is installing air quality sensors in communities around the city, with a particular focus on the poorest communities, in the hope that the data can influence local policy changes.

Imperial College’s environmental research group operates the London Air Quality Network (LAQN), a collection of air pollution monitoring stations in London and the south-east of England, established in the 1990s. The group has grown to include a team of epidemiologists, pulmonary toxicologists, policy experts, and others who monitor and study the data. But its complex infrastructure, made up of bulky and expensive sensors, has proven to be a difficult system to replicate elsewhere.

[Photo: Andrew Grieve]

In response, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, with funding from C40, a global network of mayors fighting climate change, created the Breathe London network to show that it is possible to increase the measurement of the quality of the air in all parts of the city by providing cheaper, smaller, easier-to-install sensors for anyone who wants them. This model of community and citizen-led monitoring is a relatively new concept, says Andrew Grieve, senior air quality analyst at Imperial and LAQN.

These new sensors are solar powered and the size of a shoebox, and can easily be attached to streetlights, traffic lights, roofs of homes or businesses, and in places like playgrounds. games, allotment gardens and residential areas. Manufactured by California-based company Clarity, the sensors are coated with a chemical that reacts with the polluting particles, producing a tiny electric current that is then amplified, and the force of the voltage suggests the volume of pollution in the air. But the system can be affected by conditions such as temperature and humidity, and is therefore less accurate than traditional LAQN sensors. So the Breathe team synchronizes the nodes with LAQN’s already established sensors to ensure accuracy. Imperial Oil scientists study the data every day in real time and correct the monitors if they are turned off.

Because they are compact and easy to install, they can be used by citizens and communities. “This opens up new possibilities for surveillance,” says Grieve. “We are now able to monitor in places that we could never have had with a reference station. Breathe started as a pilot, where the Greater London Authority supplied sensors to 30 schools and 10 hospitals, from the most polluted to the least polluted areas in the city. Now the sensors are available through online purchase for any group or anyone with funding. For example, a partnership of five boroughs in southwest London bought 140 to be placed in schools, playgrounds and roads. “My feeling is that having an air quality monitor in your child’s playground or on your street,” says Grieve, “is potentially a much more powerful way for people to feel directly connected to the air. air quality in their region. “

[Photo: Andrew Grieve]

Without funding, however, the knots are still expensive, at just under 2,000 pounds ($ 2,600). So over the next three years, Breathe will provide 60 free, donated by Bloomberg’s charity Bloomberg Philanthropies, as part of its 720,000 pound ($ 1 million) investment. Breathe will take applications for those 60 – the first round, for the allocation of 10 for the first year, ends this week – and preferably looks for community groups, like residence associations or parent-teacher associations, rather than individuals, and for defined groups and achievable outcomes. More importantly, it favors socio-economically disadvantaged communities, which have a higher prevalence of pollution and “have not yet been involved in the conversation about air quality,” Grieve says.

Since Ella’s death, her mother, Rosamund Kissi-Debrah, has become an activist, pushing for awareness and change around air quality. His work helped influence the commissioning of two city council studies; the most recent, from 2017, found that in areas with the worst air quality, 32% of people belong to the most socio-economically disadvantaged groups and 7% to the least disadvantaged. And, areas with a high population of blacks and other ethnic people are “more likely to have nitrogen dioxide concentrations above the EU recommended limit than areas with a high proportion of whites.”

In order to encourage applications from these regions, Grieve, who is leading the process, has launched an online awareness campaign and hand-dropped flyers in the five boroughs that reports have the highest levels of air pollution and economic deprivation. : Barking and Dagenham, Newham, Tower Hamlets, Croydon and Hackney.

Grieve imagines that collecting the data could eventually lead to local policy changes, like causing authorities to add new school roads, reduce idling, or build new parks. Already, 70 purchased sensors have been synchronized with cameras from Vivacity Labs, which capture traffic data, with the aim of finding trends between traffic and pollution data. Bloomberg also purchased four sensors for cultural institutions, including the British Library and the National Gallery, to explore how they can communicate air quality information to visitors.

But Grieve deliberately stops before citing the desired political results. He wants communities to identify their own desired outcomes themselves, without his bias, which is at the heart of the citizen approach. “London is a big city,” he says. “There will be bands out there that will approach things in a way we’ve never thought of. We can’t wait to see what people do with it.


Back To Top