Sensing the City: Addressing Environmental & Human Risk

More than 400 000 citizens die prematurely in the EU each year as a result of poor air quality. Millions more suffer from respiratory and cardiovascular diseases caused by air pollution. Persistently high levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) caused almost 70 000 premature deaths in Europe in 2013, which was almost three times the number of deaths by road traffic accidents in the same year.

EU legislation on ambient air quality (Directive 2008/50/EC) sets limit values for air pollutants, including nitrogen dioxide. In case such limit values are exceeded, Member States are required to adopt and implement air quality plans that set out appropriate measures to bring this situation to an end as soon as possible.

The Global Emergency of Urban Air Pollution 

“You never see ‘air pollution’ written as the cause on death certificates,” an expert once told me. If it was, she suggested, the enormous toll toxic air takes on the health of billions of the world’s people would prompt a global emergency response.

But the winds of change are now blasting the air pollution crisis to greater prominence – driven by new data, revelations about the impact of poisonous air on virtually all aspects of health and, crucially, the increasing anger of affected people and communities.”  The Guardian 

"Tomorrow's Cities: What can be done to improve air quality?" BBC, January 25, 2017

"The war against air pollution has begun – and it will be fought in cities"  The Guardian, February 13, 2017

"Commuters warned of new air pollution risk" The Times, February 14, 2017

The European Commission Warns France, Italy, Germany, UK and Spain re Air Pollution 

On February 15, 2017, the European Commission sent final warnings to Germany, France, Spain, Italy and the United Kingdom regarding their failure to address repeated breaches of air pollution limits for nitrogen dioxide (NO2). NO2 pollution is a serious health risk. Most emissions result from road traffic.

The European Commission urged the 5 Member States to take action to ensure good air quality and safeguard public health.

The European Commission: “Today's reasoned opinion concerns persistent breaches of NO2 limit values” 

–Germany (28 air quality zones, including Berlin, Munich, Hamburg and Köln);

–France (19 air quality zones, among them Paris, Marseille and Lyon);

–The United Kingdom (16 air quality zones, among them London, Birmingham, Leeds, and Glasgow);

–Italy (12 air quality zones, including Rome, Milan and Turin);

–Spain (3 air quality zones, one being Madrid and two covering Barcelona)”

The multiplier effect of urban air pollution

According to Public Health England, the fraction of mortality attributable to particulate air pollution in Birmingham is 5.1% (2015, Public Health Outcomes Framework).

We know from current research that it is disadvantaged populations that are most affected by urban air pollution. Disadvantaged populations are defined as those with fewer economic and social resources, poorer education, lower levels of employment.

These populations are more likely to live in high traffic corridors, and high-density neighborhoods with less green space. These populations are also more likely to be impacted by health inequities. Consequently, underserved populations are doubly disadvantaged.

The health risks posed by air pollution are not evenly distributed across populations or locations. 

Current Research: Air Pollution & Human Health

1. Exposure to air pollution and cognitive functioning across the life course – a  systematic literature review (Environmental Research, 2016)

2. Can air pollution negate the health benefits of cycling and walking? (Preventive Medicine, 2016)

3. The association of air pollution and greenness with mortality and life expectancy in Spain (Environment International, 2017)

4. Air pollution and diabetes association: modification by type 2 diabetes genetic risk score (Environment International, 2017)

Air Pollution in London

Air Pollution in London

Future Cities Lab Solutions

Future Cities Lab leverages the Internet of Things (IoT) via a ubiquitous sensing system (fixed and mobile sensors) to collect data on air quality, generating an integrated information network. We design and build sensor nodes, comprised of multiple individual low-cost sensors, combined into a scalable high-density air quality sensor network operating at fine spatial and temporal scales. This network is deployed across selected neighbourhoods in our urban test beds. In contrast with a ‘weather monitoring station’ approach, we use vehicles and citizens as platforms for outward-facing environmental sensor systems, enabling them to operate as mobile probes on urban air quality. This radically improves current capability for the detection/monitoring of airborne pollutants and the measurement/modelling capabilities in exposure science and transport studies.

The Quantified City

At Future Cities Lab, we approach the city as series of intersecting data fields. We refer to this as the 'data layers' of the city. 

These are comprised of: 

•Higher atmosphere (EU & US satellites/remote sensing that generate data regarding environmental conditions at the urban scale)

•Urban atmosphere (multiple fixed and mobile sensors that generate data regarding environmental conditions and human exposures at the urban scale)

•Street/neighborhood (open civic data regarding transport, health, environment; enterprise data regarding ride sharing and citizen transport; smart phone data regarding human mobility at the   urban scale)

•Social/community (volunteered data on neighborhood/city locations & services via citizen platforms, social media and urban games; apps generating human health and wellbeing data; clinical data from health systems).

These intersecting data fields allow us to generate unique and meaningful portraits of risk and resilience for each city, and deep insight to guide urban decision-makers, businesses and citizens.