Community sensors indicate high air pollution in Heathrow neighbourhoods

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Startup calls for a democratisation of air quality data as project identifies Heathrow pollution exceeds EU limits

Today, OpenSensors, an Internet of Things ODI Startup, has released alarming Heathrow air quality and noise figures, indicating possible effects on residents’ health in surrounding neighbourhoods.

As part of the startup’s ‘Breathe Heathrow’ project, funded and supported by the ODI summer showcase, OpenSensors deployed a network of air quality and noise sensors in local resident gardens. The project has assessed the impact of aircraft pollution in Heathrow’s neighbouring areas between September and October, 2015.

Sensor findings reveal

The average Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) reading in Sipson (1km from Heathrow airport), is 70µg/m3, with highs regularly exceeding 90µg/m3 – both higher than the 40µg/m3 EU annual safe limit.

Beneath the flight path at Isleworth, high NO2 levels reached 75µg/m3 (9.65km from Heathrow airport).

2.5km from the airport, noise levels regularly rose to 62–64dB, 5-7dB above the EU/UK 57dB ‘annoyance level threshold’. (1)

Health effects

Poor air quality causes approximately 9,500 deaths in London each year and there are estimated to be 600,000 premature deaths a year in Europe caused by NO2 and lung-penetrable Particulate Matter (PM2.5).(2) Elevated levels of NO2 are linked to respiratory conditions(3) and high levels of noise pollution is also linked to sleep deprivation and heart disease.(4)

Yodit Stanton, Co-founder at OpenSensors said:

“The sensor figures are particularly worrying as the data was captured during the windiest months of the year, when readings are diluted due to wind dispersion.”

As a result of strong volunteering support from local residents, 20 sensors were deployed spanning from West Drayton, to Windsor and Twickenham – making the Breathe Heathrow project the widest surrounding area of Heathrow ever to be monitored.(5)

Yodit Stanton, Co-founder at OpenSensors said:

“We couldn’t have achieved this project without help and support from the local community. Residents are very concerned about their local air quality and are frustrated there isn’t existing data collected outside of the immediate Heathrow airport location.

Putting data in the hands of locals will allow them to address their needs and make informed decisions on the effects current Heathrow operations and future developments may have on their lives.”

When installing the sensors, the team gave each resident volunteer tutorials on how to use the real-time open data and interpret readings. The real-time open data, APIs and data visualisations are available at the Breathe Heathrow website for anyone to access, use and share.

Yodit Stanton, Co-founder at OpenSensors said:

“The debate surrounding Heathrow developments has been largely fuelled by subjectivity and an absence of hard-hitting data to back up claims. Breathe Heathrow enables data to do the talking, helping anyone with varied data skills to digest the findings, and use the data as neutral insight.”

Scaling community-driven sensor projects and smart city developments

The project has demonstrated how city planners can scale smart city developments by involving the community. The project’s challenges have shown careful deployment of sensors with good connectivity, remote management and reliable peer-to-peer networks will aid developments requiring sensor monitoring in future.

Building data infrastructure, and the infrastructure for data collection, is important to help smart city developments thrive. Combining datasets published and maintained for maximum reuse, such as traffic, weather and flight data, will help to shed light on complex issues.

Jeni Tennison, Deputy CEO and Technical Director at the ODI said:

“The Breathe Heathrow project demonstrates that our data infrastructure is not just built by governments or corporations, but can also be created by communities. Community-led open data projects can provide vital additional insight to complex problems from which everyone can benefit. OpenSensors has shown how convening a local network can generate open data; what we’d like to see next is this data being used to inform the debate around the development of Heathrow.”

Continuing the Breathe Heathrow project

The work achieved during the ODI summer showcase has spurred three further Heathrow air quality projects with Greater London Authority, PhD students assessing the environmental impact of pollution and an expansion of deployed sensors for more robust analysis.



(2) PM2.5 refers to particulate matter smaller than 2.5µm in diameter – 1/40th the width of human hair – which is produced during all forms of combustion.



(5) Known air quality sensors from Defra, Heathrow Airwatch and London Air Quality Network monitor the immediate surrounding area of Heathrow Airport

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