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June 30th, 2009:

Cyclists Transformed Into Pollution Sensors

Sky News

Pedestrians and cyclists in urban areas are being transformed into mobile pollution sensors as part of a Government-backed scheme to monitor air quality.

Led by a team at Imperial College London, researchers will trial three new types of sensors on people, vehicles and traffic islands to measure emissions and noise pollution.

The three-year Mobile Environmental Sensing System Across Grid Environments (MESSAGE) initiative will receive data from 100 sensors in South Kensington, Leicester, Gateshead and Cambridge to test how they operate in different types of location.
The new technology will provide unprecedented detail about pollution hotspots.

Professor John Polak said: “There is a lot that we do not know about air quality in our cities and towns because the current generation of large stationary sensors don’t provide enough information.

“We envisage a future where hundreds and thousands of mobile sensors are deployed across the country, to improve the way we monitor, measure and manage pollution in our urban areas.”

The sensors will measure up to five different traffic pollutants simultaneously, including harmful nitrogen oxides and sulphur dioxides.

New EU laws mean the Government must reduce nitrogen dioxide (NO2) pollution, which comes largely from traffic, while scientists are particularly concerned by PM10 pollution.

PM10s are the minute sooty particles emitted by diesel engines which can lead to asthma, heart disease and other respiratory problems.

In Britain alone, experts say PM10 pollution leads to the premature deaths of between 12,000 and 24,000 people a year.
The trials begin in the same week as the Met Office issued its first ‘heat health warning’ of 2009.

Experts are concerned the high temperatures expected this week, combined with pollution levels in urban areas, could aggravate respiratory problems.

A Department of Health spokesman warned: “People with respiratory problems should stay inside during the hottest part of the day.”

The sensors attached to pedestrians and cyclists are small enough to fit into a pocket and can detect car pollutants and other contaminants including carbon monoxide from cigarette smoke.

They will transmit the data back via the wearer’s mobile phone.

The scientists will also model pollution clouds in 3D, by attaching sensors to traffic lights and street lamps to try to work out whether poor traffic signalling, for example, is causing air quality to deteriorate.

The air quality measurements and the location of each mobile sensor will be tracked on Google maps.