How Can Air Pollution be Monitored?

Air pollution

Thanks to the expansion of industrial and commercial activities in cities, factories and ports, air pollution in these areas has significantly risen to the point where it has turned into a threat to both human and animal health, as well as the environment. To fight pollution, ensure good air quality and reduce the impact of climate change, a lot of countries around the world have set up regulations, systems and agencies to continuously monitor ambient air quality and to prevent pollution events. 

As we all know, air is a vital component to sustaining life on Earth. Good air quality means that the air is clean and safe to breathe, with low levels of pollution. On the other hand, poor air quality will contain high amounts of pollutants, which are often dangerous and potentially fatal to all living creatures. Air quality can be measured by the levels of pollution present in both outdoor and indoor air through sensors and other monitoring systems that detect specific pollutants in the atmosphere. 

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What is air pollution?

Air pollution occurs when harmful particles invade the atmosphere and modify the air’s natural characteristics to make it toxic and dangerous to all living creatures. 

Amongst the most poisonous air pollutants are ozone (O3), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), carbon monoxide (CO) and sulfur dioxide (SO2), all of which can cause strokes, cancer, cardiovascular and respiratory diseases in the affected individual. 

Particulate matter — meaning inhalable particles that are made up of sulphate, nitrates, ammonia, sodium chloride, black carbon, mineral dust or water — are also dangerous agents of pollution, particularly PM2.5 and PM10 (the number denominations indicate their diameter), since they can penetrate the lungs, can go into the bloodstream and worsen other health issues like asthma or heart diseases in the contaminated organism. 

What are the most common sources of air pollution?

air pollution

There are several common sources of ambient air pollution, most of which are caused by human industrial and commercial activities:  

  • Energy use and production, that is, burning fossil fuels to generate electricity. 
  • Smog and soot that come from vehicles, factories and power plants, engines — in short, anything that combusts fossil fuels such as coal, gas, or natural gas. 
  • Vehicle exhausts, which release large concentrations of polluting chemicals such as carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide. 
 

Conversely, natural sources of air pollution, such as volcanic eruptions, wildfires and dust storms, can introduce gases, smoke, soot and ash that pollute the air quality. 

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Can we monitor air pollution?

Yes, we can monitor air pollution levels, which is important to protect not only human health, but animals and plants too. For this purpose there are entities and regulations tasked specifically with monitoring and measuring levels of pollution in the air through a vast network of systems and technology. They also publish yearly air quality data reports with their findings and results. 

In Europe, the entity that monitors the atmosphere is the European Environment Agency (EEA), established in the 1990s. As stated in their website, its mandate is to help the member countries to “make informed decisions about improving the environment, integrating environmental considerations into economic policies and moving towards sustainability.” It is also in charge of coordinating the European environment information and observation network (Eionet.) 

In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) monitors air quality and pollution since its creation in the 1970s by the US federal government. Its main duties are the protection of the people and the environment from major health risks, as well as sponsoring and conducting research, and developing and enforcing eco-friendly regulations. 

How can we monitor air pollution?

Some of the air quality monitoring best practices involve establishing national laws, regulations, and programs that measure pollutants, monitor pollution levels, reduce the ecological impact of solutions as well as promote clean energy sources. In Europe, this is enforced through the European Copernicus program, which monitors the atmosphere and collects data from Earth observation through satellites and in situ sensors to help better understand the planet and its needs. 

In the United States, the Clean Air Act has been a crucial instrument for monitoring air pollution since it was passed in 1970. The CAA is the federal law that regulates air emissions from stationary and mobile sources. It also monitors the emissions of hazardous air contaminants. Therefore, ensuring that this environmental law remains intact and properly enforced will be key to monitoring and improving the air quality. 

There are several tools that help monitor air quality: stations, a cost-efficient sensor network that collects and review data and new technology, as well as the Air Quality Index (AQI). The AQI is EPA’s index for reporting air quality levels for five major pollutants regulated by the CAA (ground-level ozone, nitrogen dioxide, carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide and particle pollution.) Each of these pollutants has a national air quality standard set by EPA to protect public health. 

 

Now more than ever, countries are springing into action and doing them best to monitor ambient air quality and keep air pollution at bay. Thanks to the available technology such as sensors, stations and other pollution-detecting devices, air quality monitoring agents and organisms can now have a clear environmental picture and status of the situation in real-time and can act preemptively to avoid further ambient air contamination. 

Frequently Asked Questions About: Air Pollution

Pollution is monitored with environmental monitoring. Environmental monitoring is composed of tools and techniques that identify, analyze, and establish parameters for environmental conditions to quantifiably assess the impacts of various activities on the environment.

Environmental monitoring allows pollution levels to be controlled and trends to be identified.

Air pollution is checked and controlled by government laws and legislation. The Air Quality Index is a tool used by many governments to communicate air quality levels. 

An air quality monitoring system is a process that monitors the quality of the air in relation to pollutants and toxins. The system is often an application that uses data and AI to produce key indicators.

Indoor air quality is monitored with hardware, software, and services designed specifically to be placed indoors. They detect pollutants and can measure the quality of the air. 

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