The City of Houston Health Department installed air pollution sensors on its vehicles.
 - Photo by Marie D. De Jesús courtesy of Environmental Defense Fund

The City of Houston Health Department installed air pollution sensors on its vehicles.

Photo by Marie D. De Jesús courtesy of Environmental Defense Fund

By combining mobile air quality sensors with telematics technologies, city vehicles would measure air pollution without changing their regular routes, according to a new study from the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and Geotab.

Generally, air pollution data is collected by stationary air quality monitors placed miles apart. But studies have shown that air pollution levels can vary greatly from one block to another, so far-spread monitors do not collect enough data to pinpoint areas with high air pollution.

But installing mobile monitors on fleet vehicles could allow a city to cover more ground. According to the report, a fleet in a small or medium North American city could map 50% or more of the city with 10 vehicles, and almost 80% of the city with 20 vehicles. In Washington, D.C., where only five stationary air pollution monitors are installed throughout the city, the top 20 public vehicles covered nearly 70% of the city in six months.

“Vehicles for animal control, waste management, and public health can play a central role in modernizing air quality monitoring and accelerating our understanding of air pollution. The hyperlocal insights generated by these smart fleets can inform solutions to address the massive health, economic and climate challenges associated with air pollution,” said Aileen Nowlan, senior manager of EDF+Business and co-author of the report.

Vehicle activity data is collected using a Geotab telematics device, which fleets can use to identify optimal vehicles for air pollution monitoring.
 - Photo by Marie D. De Jesús courtesy of Environmental Defense Fund

Vehicle activity data is collected using a Geotab telematics device, which fleets can use to identify optimal vehicles for air pollution monitoring.

Photo by Marie D. De Jesús courtesy of Environmental Defense Fund

EDF is currently working with the Houston Health Department (HDH). HDH vehicles are capturing data using mobile sensors that are mounted on top of the vehicle using magnets, and work is underway to connect these sensors to Geotab’s telematics product.

“Improving our ability to measure air pollution will improve our ability to manage it – and to improve rapid response rates for air-related public health emergencies,” noted Loren Raun, chief environmental science officer for the Houston Health Department. “Using vehicles already driving on city roads to collect pollution data in real-time would be a game changer and could help to inform future policies.”

With more specific data on air pollution, a city can make educated decisions on where to support bike infrastructure or electrify shared transportation, for example. The authors of the report suggest that agencies can also use hyperlocal insights to bridge the gap between their climate commitments and future-ready business models for mobility, decarbonized electricity, and safe, healthy communities.

Read the full report here.

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