Residents of Metro Manila and other highly urbanized regions in the Philippines know that air pollution is causing major illnesses, even death, among commuters using inefficient, poorly maintained and congested mass public transport systems in the country.
Poor air quality is mainly due to high levels of particulate matter, containing hazardous airborne chemicals especially harmful to human health. Most particulate matter comes from fuel combustion, both from vehicles and stationary sources like power plants, industry and households.
In the Philippines, public utility vehicles such as aging and/or badly maintained jeepneys and buses, even tricycles, are major contributors to the high levels of particulate matter in the air we breathe.
Executive director Achim Steiner of the United Nations environment program (Unep) says, “Each year, air pollution causes seven million premature deaths around the world, with outdoor pollution responsible for more than half of that total. Tragically, these deaths are wholly preventable.
“We know from the World Health Organization that 88 percent of deaths related to outdoor pollution occur in low- and middle-income countries. Yet it is these same developing countries that typically lack access to data on their air quality.”
The monitoring of air pollution, even in Metro Manila, has been spotty, with only a few measuring devices installed, many of them not working properly. The devices are not cheap, which explains why we only have a few of them, even if they offer another opportunity for some government types to make money.
Now Unep has unveiled a low-cost device that “can revolutionize air-quality monitoring and help countries prevent deaths from outdoor pollution.”
The device is expected to cost up to 100 times less than existing solutions, around $1,500 per unit, Unep says, and is capable of collecting all the vital parameters of air quality.
Unep points out that because the device is cheap, governments will be able to establish countrywide networks of mobile and stationary air monitoring stations for as little as $150,000-$200,000. “Currently, roughly the same amount of money is necessary to set up just one monitoring station,” it notes.
Even better news is that Unep plans to make the device’s blueprints publicly available so governments and organizations can make it themselves. The device can measure the concentration of particulate matter and also record the concentration of sulfur and nitrogen oxides and can be extended to measure other gases such as ozone.
Unep says: “The unit was designed for affordability throughout its lifecycle, with less frequent calibration required and a durability of up to four years. High quality has been ensured through rigorous testing in various settings, and a built-in GPS system means that the device can also be used as a mobile unit.”
It adds: “The device’s low cost and ease of use can also boost community participation in environmental and health monitoring and increase digital and technological literacy through the participation of schools.”
Steiner says, “Unep’s device can spark a data boom to help countries reduce the negative effects of air pollution, potentially saving lives that would have been lost due to air pollution-related illnesses.”
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