With outdoor urban air pollution increasingly infecting both our environment and our health, maybe it's time for us to take the matter into our own hands, and find out what's really lurking in the air around us. And now there a bunch of apps out there that let us do just that, wherever we are in the world.
According to statistics from the WHO, air pollution is becoming increasingly deadly - causing the premature deaths of 7 million people each year, according to figures from 2014. They estimate that outdoor air pollution contributes to 6.7 % of all deaths worldwide, with the main culprit being the emission of small particles: most of which come from the burning of coal and wood, power plants, factories and vehicle exhausts. So it's not surprising, as we here at RESET reported, that the majority of deaths are currently happening in the rapidly developing economies of China and India.
Our Favourite Air Quality (Or Should That Be Air Pollution?) App
One of the most interesting apps that we've found recently calls itself Visibility, and allows users to be part of an experiment created by engineers at the University of Southern California. Just take a picture of the sky, and the app will send you a message telling you how polluted the air is at your location. The way it works is thanks to something called "haze aerosols", the particles we mentioned earlier, that air pollution is made of, and which block the amount of light which makes it through the atmosphere.
Visibility sends a photo to a central computer, and compares the luminance value of the sky in the photo to algorithmic models for the specific time and coordinates at which the phone data indicates the image was taken. If the sky is hazier, or less bright than it should be, then that means the amount of particles is higher than usual. Not only does the user receive the information, but the information is also stored (anonymously) in order to inform pollution maps for the area. So not only are you finding out if you should do your best to limit your exposure to certain areas of town that day, but you're also contributing to the scientific research into the phenomenon of local air pollution.
The Best of the Rest
Other Apps include Air Quality, which shows you the real-time AQI (Air Quality Index) for more than 60 countries around the world, including Mainland China, Hong Kong, India and Vietnam, and uBreathe, an app for iPhone and Android that features a colour-coded UK map and gives you instant access to current and future air pollution information throughout the country, as well as health advice and useful links to help you reduce your expose to possible harmful pollution. And India is in on the act too, with a government launched app that allows citizens of Delhi (which is said to have one of the worst air qualities of any major city in the world) and Pune to check for air quality and get forecasts for the next day too.