As awareness of the short and long-term health impacts of exposure to poor air quality increases, more and more people around the world are looking for solutions to help them manage this risk and reduce their exposure to toxic pollution.
Air quality data providers and those intending to use air quality data for commercial or public purposes have a responsibility to understand the information they are using and to ensure it is actually relevant for users turning to their information to make more informed and practical decisions on a daily basis: Decisions like taking an alternative route to work or heading to a different park when the air quality is poor.
Measuring and reporting on air quality is a complex business, but the process of evaluating and understanding the reliability of a data source is arguably even harder. To help both the public and businesses understand the differences between air quality data sources, the team at BreezoMeter have created a comprehensive Guide to Evaluating Air Quality Data.
This resource will help you ask the right questions of any air quality data source you plan to use, for yourself, for research, or for a product or marketing campaign.
Why Air Quality Reporting Differences Matter
1. Air Pollution Information Has Real-World Consequences for People's Health
Individuals rely on air quality data to help them make decisions on a daily basis. For sufferers of pre-existing respiratory conditions like Asthma or COPD, the consequences of unreliable information can be devastating. Sufferers of chronic respiratory conditions are particularly vulnerable to all forms of air pollution; research has recently found that exposure to traffic fumes result in 4 million new child asthma cases each year and for the first time in history, a young girl’s cause of death has been linked to illegal levels of air pollution in London.
It’s understandable that more and more sufferers of respiratory conditions and sensitive populations like the very young, the elderly and pregnant women, are turning to providers of air quality information to understand the air around them and stay safe.
Further, an increasing number of consumer brands are realizing this public demand by looking to integrate air quality data into their products to help users understand when pollution levels are high and to take action (see smart Blueair Aware Air Purifier case study).
The rise in demand for pollution information makes sense but in order for people to truly benefit from access data, it needs to be trustworthy and reliable for the application in question. If it’s not, real lives will be put at risk.
2. Outdated Air Quality Information Isn't Useful Right Now
Few understand how dynamic and fast-changing air quality truly is. Air quality fluctuates on an hourly basis and can show differently at any given time from street to street.
In practical terms, this means that if the air quality is poor at 11AM, it won’t help to receive air pollution levels as they were recorded at 4AM, when fewer cars were on the road, less industrial activity was going on, and there were lower levels of harmful Ozone while the sun was down.
As our BreezoMeter Guide explains, many sources of air quality information were never designed for real-time use and typically come with reporting delays of up to 2-24 hours.
3. Coverage Differs Dramatically
Each provider varies dramatically when it comes to the sources they use, the pollutants they measure, and their geographical level of coverage. If the data source you’re turning to only reports information on 1 out of the 6 common air pollutants, do you really want your users to base their decision-making on such an incomplete picture?
Another typical issue we’ve encountered with government station data is the uneven spread of monitoring stations in particular areas: Given the hyper-local nature of air pollution, if you or your users live very far from a monitoring station, the information becomes even less relevant to them.
This is why it’s important to look for specific evidence from the air quality data source that they have a comprehensive method for reporting pollution at a granular level.
4. Truly Reliable Air Quality Data Requires Sophisticated Modelling & Validation
Given the highly dynamic and hyper-local nature of air quality, any reliable and actionable source of pollution information needs to take multiple data sources into account - government station data, live traffic, weather, fire information and more - then deploy sophisticated algorithms and machine learning to accurately calculate air quality in real-time and at a specific location.
If there is no evidence of scientific modelling or accuracy validation, it is unlikely the information can be trusted for actionable decision-making. Most freely available sources of data rely only on government station information, failing to account for the complexity involved in dynamic and real-time pollution reporting.
If the air quality data you intend to use is unreliable, this will be more harmful than guesswork, because it comes with a greater assumption of accuracy. In a world of ‘fake news’, it is important you look for real science-based evidence that the data you intend to use has been validated and backed by authoritative bodies in a way that fits the use case you intend to use it for. You can find out how BreezoMeter continuously validates and checks it’s own accuracy here.
The information we’ve provided here covers just a handful of the issues you should ask before using any air quality information. Download our full Guide to Evaluating an Air Quality Provider for a more comprehensive walk-through of the 12 most important questions to consider.
You can use our guide to learn more about the differences between air quality data providers, the nature of air quality itself, or to learn more about BreezoMeter’s own approach to air quality reporting.