Opening up Air Quality Data

Air pollution is a leading cause of death across the globe, and contributes to stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, and other respiratory illness. While the vast majority of deaths are in low and middle income countries, air quality continues to worsen in cities across the world.

So we made an open data pipeline and API for citizens to better understand the quality of the air they breathe.

Pollution seen in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.

Using accurate, low-cost sensors, people can measure the concentration of harmful particulate matter in their homes or places of work. Feeding into our data pipeline, these sensors create a central repository of data about air quality that anyone can access through the API. With several sensors scattered across an area, citizens create meaningful data that they can use to advocate for better policy, zoning laws, and regulation.

We’ve been working with a group of hardware engineers, infrastructure builders, and journalists to develop an air quality monitoring system powered by an open API and low-cost sensors – some great folks at InfoAmazonia, Feedback Labs, FrontlineSMS, Groundtruth Initiative, EJN and Internews.

Earth Journalism Network (EJN) and InfoAmazonia designed, manufactured, and deployed Dustduinos, Arduino-based sensors that detect particulate matter at 2.5µm and 10µm. The Dustduino uses an open spec that was optimized for low power consumption and SMS communication and wifi. To ensure connectivity in areas without wifi, FrontlineSMS, adapted their SMS services to support the Dustduino.

Our role was to turn the raw input data into actionable information. We built a data pipeline to make this data publicly available through a flexible API as well as for download. The API allows anyone to build apps on top this information, or integrate it with other tools. Downloads will allow researchers and advocacy organizations to work with the data in tabular format.

Open and available air quality data can empower citizens in vulnerable areas to have more say in the policies that affect their local air quality as well as providing researchers with valuable insight into potentially understudied areas. This kind of change happens from the ground up. We will continue to support this change by building open-source data pipelines, better sensors, and a robust community for open air quality data.

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