Low-Cost Device Can Revolutionize Air Quality Monitoring and Help Countries Prevent Deaths from Outdoor Pollution Mon, Aug 31, 2015

UNEP Executive Director, Achim Steiner (2nd-R) and Kenya's Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Prof. Judi Wakhungu (1st-R) launch the pilot air quality monitoring system

Nairobi, 31 August 2015 - A ground-breaking air quality measuring device unveiled today in Nairobi by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), expected to cost up to 100 times less than existing solutions, has the potential to revolutionize air quality measurement in developing countries and help prevent deaths from air pollution.

The device, capable of collecting all the vital parameters of air quality, will cost around $1,500 per unit, allowing governments to establish a countrywide network of mobile and stationary air monitoring stations for as little as $150,000-200,000. Currently, roughly the same amount of money is necessary to set up just one monitoring station.

UNEP plans to make the blueprints of its device publically available. This will allow governments and organizations to assemble or fabricate the units themselves, creating opportunities for innovation, enterprise development and green job creation.

UNEP Executive Director, Achim Steiner said, "Each year, air pollution causes 7 million premature deaths around the world, with outdoor pollution responsible for more than half of that total. Tragically, these deaths are wholly preventable.

"We know from the World Health Organization that 88% of deaths related to outdoor pollution occur in low- and middle-income countries. Yet it is these same developing countries that typically lack access to data on their air quality. UNEP's device can spark a data boom to help countries reduce the negative effects of air pollution, potentially saving lives that would have been lost due to air pollution related illnesses."

Currently, the UNEP Live platform enables near real-time monitoring of air quality from 2000 stations across the world. However, only few of those are located in developing countries and their setup and calibration varies. The new device can successfully bridge this data gap and contribute to standardization of data collection.

A pilot project, inaugurated today in Kenya's capital, will further test the device and map the city's air pollution hotspots. It is conducted in cooperation with the Kenyan Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources and the Nairobi County. Preliminary test results, collected by the mobile monitoring unit, show that large parts of the city may have unsafe levels of air pollution, with certain areas particularly affected.

"We would like to establish as many as 50 more units with the assistance of UNEP," said Prof. Judi Wakhungu, Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Natural Resources and Regional Development Authorities. "These could be spread in various parts of the country and, if possible, be based at learning institutions to form part of their regular weather monitoring lessons. With more such units, Kenya will easily map air pollution hotspots in the urban and rural areas" she said.

Despite a generally lower degree of industrialization, African cities also suffer the consequences of poor air quality, mainly due to high levels of particulate matter, containing hazardous airborne chemicals especially harmful to human health. Most fine particulate matter comes from fuel combustion, both from vehicles and stationary sources such as power plants, industry and households.

UNEP's device can measure the concentration of particulate matter ranging from 1 to 10 microns in diameter (PM 1 - PM 10), including PM 2.5, considered by the WHO to have the greatest effect on human health. It also records the concentration of sulphur and nitrogen oxides and can be extended to measure other gases such as ozone.

The unit was designed for affordability throughout its lifecycle, with less frequent calibration required and a durability of up to 4 years. High quality has been ensured through rigorous testing in various settings, and a built-in GPS system means that the device can also be used as a mobile unit.

The device's low cost and ease of use can also boost community participation in environmental and health monitoring, and increase digital and technological literacy through the participation of schools.

For more information, please contact:

Michal Szymanski, UNEP News & Media, unepnewsdesk@unep.org, +254 715876185

 
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