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From data to action: How our air quality monitors drive impactful research

Air quality is one of the biggest threats to public health. Together, ambient or outdoor air pollution, and household air pollution cause 6.7 million premature deaths in a single year. Yet enough attention isn’t paid to the detrimental effects of poor air quality on the health of humans, plants, and wildlife.

The criticality of ongoing conversations

Every few weeks, you find that poor air quality has made it to the headlines, only to fade from the recesses of public memory in a matter of days. For instance, in the first few days of 2024 alone, there were reports of poor air quality in Srinagar due to power cuts and vehicular emissions, Delhi’s air quality was recorded as ‘very poor’, and an alarming six cities from Odisha made it to the country’s list of most polluted cities on 8 January 2024.

Yet, we only register poor air quality when we can see it as smog or when we smell the smoke. But in reality, air quality is constantly deteriorating as the population increases, and economic and development activities gather momentum. The problem isn’t seasonal anymore and is growing in magnitude every single day, which is why it demands an ongoing conversation.

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Driving change through policy led by data and research

Unfortunately, air pollution is also a deeply complex issue. It’s not a work order that simply needs to be funded and executed, like a neighbourhood needing wider roads, for example. The key to addressing air pollution is first understanding that the problem is highly nuanced and exists on several levels.

To meaningfully solve for it, decision-makers need to understand the severity of air quality in a particular region, identify the hotspots, and conduct source apportionment studies. These studies are indispensable as they offer a detailed understanding of the specific sources and their contribution to air pollution in that region. Decision-makers can then formulate targeted strategies to address the root causes, and then test the efficacy of the solutions using monitoring to ensure a more effective and precise approach to mitigating the complex issue of air pollution. This critical insight allows for informed decision-making, leading to policies and interventions that directly tackle the critical sources of air pollution effectively, thus enhancing the overall efficacy of air quality improvement initiatives.

It's important to recognize that air pollution extends beyond local boundaries, becoming a regional challenge influenced by wind direction and speed. To comprehensively address this, a holistic approach that considers airsheds and involves extensive modelling is essential. Active participation and collaboration between the government and the robust research community in India are pivotal for success.

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Image credit: Johannes Bader, CC by 2.0 deed

Building partnerships with researchers

As we find that this approach to problem-solving is largely overlooked in the Indian context, we have worked tirelessly to mobilize researchers, institutes and policy makers, and advocate for change through our feature-rich, resilient, reliable, made-in-India air quality monitoring devices. So, over the years we have partnered with research institutes across the country and some outside India, to help drive the research and knowledge base in air quality forward. Our goal is to contribute to finding solutions and shaping policies for better public health and a healthier planet by offering reliable air quality monitoring solutions for both indoor and outdoor environments.

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Meeting research specifications

Coincidentally, since our launch in 2016, institutions from across the country have also expressed a keen interest in working with us. Our association with India’s research community began at a time when there were almost no indigenous air quality monitoring solutions available. Teams needed staggering budgets to bring in air quality monitors from abroad and make do without any support for calibration, technical snags, or repair issues.

Today, eight years later, we work with some of India’s brightest, most-ambitious minds to collectively facilitate change, and give air pollution the attention it deserves. While we are innovating to enable new, more advanced research on the subject, researchers choose our devices for a number of reasons.

“We have been using the Outdoor Airveda PM sensors since November 2018 for research purposes and are quite happy with its ruggedness and accurate performance despite continuous usage under harsh conditions.”

-Aerosol Research Group
IISER Mohali

In-depth data: At Airveda, we’re constantly working towards building smarter, more reliable and more accurate products. Our devices can help you measure several parameters, from PM2.5 and PM10 to temperature and humidity. Recently, we have also added support for the measurement of gases like CO2, NO2, Ozone, and SO2, as well as weather parameters like rainfall, wind speed, wind direction, noise, light, and daylight visibility.

Compact and easy to install: Our devices are plug-and-play solutions, which makes them incredibly easy to install, even when support infrastructure is lacking. They can be affixed at intersections, or on balconies and buildings. All you need is a source of power. In fact, as many rural regions don’t have a continuous electricity supply, we also make monitors that run entirely on solar energy.

“The web portal offers excellent data analysis and visualization, with device and parameter-wise aggregation. The app is user-friendly, providing accurate geolocalization for monitoring data at specific locations.”

- MariselvamResearcher
IIT Kanpur

Resilient: Over the last eight years, we have deployed thousands of devices, and they have all been running continuously, sending data to our servers with greater than 90% uptime. Moreover, our monitors are weatherproof and feature fail-safe systems that allow them to recover from setbacks quickly. They also send information over the wire constantly, which helps us track errors and resolve issues remotely. With each project, we learn something new, and use these insights to meticulously refine our devices.

Accurate: At Airveda, we have co-located our sensors with multiple government monitors and we continually track their calibration. All our devices are also co-located with BAMs and institutes like IIT Kanpur. This ensures that their data accuracy meets EPA standards before they are deployed in the field.

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Additionally, our indoor devices are RESET-certified. This certification—obtained post rigorous testing against reference grade devices—attests to the high quality of data captured via Airveda’s monitors.

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A look at our research partnerships

There are several published papers and a lot of research that has been done using Airveda devices over the past 8 years, here we share a few examples of how some researchers have leveraged our devices.

Measuring air quality in rural India to build awareness and encourage policymaking

IIT Kanpur, Open Philanthropy and Bihar Pollution Control Board

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Location: Bihar and Uttar Pradesh

  1. Nearly 65% of India’s population lives in rural areas and yet they lack information on air quality. To support awareness-building initiatives and drive policymaking, Airveda supplied 270 monitors to the Center of Excellence on Advanced Technologies for Monitoring Air Quality Indicators (CoE-ATMAN) at IIT-Kanpur.

  2. In collaboration with Bihar’s State Pollution Control Board, researchers set out to gather data from a large network to help the government end urban-rural disparity in policymaking and enable air pollution-related programs. They also wanted to find a data-backed way to increase awareness within the rural population.

  3. To solve challenges unique to rural India, we specifically developed air quality monitors for this project. To account for constant power cuts, they ran on solar energy during the day and had a power backup of up to 18 hours to facilitate uninterrupted data capture. Similarly, to account for poor internet connectivity, they had a local memory backup of up to 10 days. This way, in case of internet outages, data could be stored on the device and sent to the server once connectivity resumed.

  4. Every device was co-located with a BAM at IIT Kanpur for two weeks and data was rigorously tested to ensure that it met the US EPA standards. Multiple devices were also continuously colocated with Bihar Pollution Board’s BAMs to ensure accuracy and ongoing calibration of the devices.

Read the entire case study here.

Determining the concentration of PM2.5 and PM10 in Bangladesh

Md. Monabbir Hossain, Md. Rakibul Hassan and Md. Alim Miah
Location: Mymensingh City corporation areas

  1. In this study in Bangladesh, researchers chose Airveda’s air quality monitors for their portability, high accuracy, and advanced technology. They deployed these monitors to measure particulate matter concentrations (PM2.5 and PM10) and gather real-time data.

  2. With help from Airveda, researchers were able to identify pollution hotspots, the sources of pollution, and the resultant impact.

  3. Researchers then used this information to recommend mitigation strategies, and in the process, helped improve public health.

Read more.

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Testing the efficacy of personal protective aids in reducing illness burden

Jennifer Tran, Aditya Khetan, Vittal Hejjaji, Supreme Jain, Chee Chan and Anubha Goel
Location: Dalkhola, West Bengal

  1. Dalkhola is a region known for its high PM2.5 concentration. Airveda is proud to be a part of a randomized cross-over study, where the effectiveness of indoor air purifiers and N-95 masks in easing blood sugar and diabetes is being studied.

  2. To gather precise and reliable environmental data, researchers have opted for Airveda’s outdoor monitor to record ambient air pollution levels, in combination with Airveda’s indoor air quality monitor (to get information on the average PM2.5 level, average PM10 level, peak PM2.5 level, trough PM2.5 level, average temperature, and average humidity).

  3. Owing to the simple yet sophisticated design of Airveda’s monitors, researchers can use them in a low-resource setting, without compromising on the quality of data collection, or its reportage.

Read more.

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Determining causes of air pollution in rural North India post-monsoon

Harshita Pawar and Baerbel Sinha
Location: Nadampur, Kalal Majra, Mohali, and Patiala

  1. This study focused on air pollution in northwest India, particularly during the transition from post-monsoon to winter. The goal was to quantify the extent to which burning cow dung cakes, firewood, dried leaves, etc. (for warmth) impacted ambient air quality in areas where paddy residue burning is also commonplace.

  2. To understand how these activities impact air pollution levels, researchers used Airveda’s monitoring devices. The accuracy of Airveda’s data was established when researchers found that the daily average PM10 and PM2.5 concentrations in the test area matched with the VIIRS (Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite) fire counts that were captured via satellite imaging.

  3. Airveda’s devices helped researchers perform highly technical source apportionment analyses [through Multiple Linear Regression (MLR) and Positive Matrix Factorization (PMF)] and get a more nuanced understanding of air pollution in the region. They concluded that while burning paddy residue increases particulate matter levels sharply, heating emissions' impact is more substantial and prolonged.

Read more.

Impact Assessment Study to monitor Air Pollution using Low-Cost Sensors

Prof. Sagnik Dey, Dr. Sofiya Rao IIT - Delhi and APAG

  1. Objective: Dispersed sources of air pollution account for approximately 45% of Delhi’s air pollution. A-PAG tackles this issue by identifying and resolving everyday civic problems that contribute to air pollution, such as unpaved roads, broken footpaths, and illegally dumped garbage and malba on roadsides. To date, DSP has identified over 181,000 such issues across Delhi and has resolved approximately 146,000 of them. This study aims to quantify the efficacy of local government interventions in reducing PM 2.5 levels achieved through A-PAG’s and government agencies focused efforts in mitigating dust and garbage issues.

  2. Study Design: Three strategically positioned sensor clusters with a radius of 1 kilometre each, were created to effectively evaluate the program's impact on-ground. Nine Airveda low-cost outdoor sensors were deployed in each cluster. The sensors are specially designed to monitor PM 2.5 , PM 10 , CO 2 , TVOC’s, Relative Humidity and Temperature levels.

  3. The study is ongoing and results will be published soon.

What does the future hold?

Since the very beginning, using our devices to drive research and catalyse a broad shift in the way we view and deal with air pollution has been a profoundly fulfilling aspect of what we do. As we go forward, we aim to continue to relentlessly work towards refining our devices to continue to meet the needs of various research organisations.

In the meantime, we would love to extend our support to researchers who share our goal of remedying air quality to improve the health of the public and the planet. If you have a project where we can support you, or if you have used our devices to conduct research in the past, we would love to hear from you. Please write to us at info@airveda.com - we would love to showcase your work!

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About the author

Airveda team is a group of individuals working tirelessly with a mission to help people breathe well and live well.