Citizen Science Personal Air Monitors Coming of Age

Monitoring is the first thing that comes to mind when most of us get jazzed about taking action for cleaner air. I agree.

To be sure, one powerful path to success is sharing our collective experiences and connecting them with exposure to the mill’s plume, and activists have been successful even without dedicated technologies.

Yet! A Personal Air Monitor whereby we could measure what comes to us from across the mill’s fenceline at the time that we experience it, would be yet more validation.

Such a monitor has only become possible within this past decade. The four main challenges being price (formerly above $200k), sensitivity, physical size, not the chemicals of interest here, or geared for indoor concentrations.

[Sidebar: ORCAA/WSU study]

Yet, most of the personal-scale monitors of interest that hit the media turn out to be “vaporware”. That is, someone has created a potentially working prototype, but then — crickets. Nothing more is heard of them. That’s ok, we keep watching. It seems like people are getting closer.

Three recent items that have potential:

1. Plume Labs’ Flow Air Quality Monitor. Under $200.
* If it pans out (big caveat), this monitor is pretty interesting. It measures two classes of chemicals that are of interest in Port Townsend: HAPs/“hazardous air pollutant” and VOCs/“volatile organic compounds”.

* It measures particulates down to 1micron. These are the tiny “nanoparticles” that get deep into our bodies, and are chemically active in the air.

* Plume’s meters have nice mapping software.

* And, even better, they are on their second generation. Plume’s first generation has been out for a couple of years. PTAW has written to them.

2. Atmo Tube. Under $200

* Atmo Tube came up just while I was looking for an image for this post. It looks similar to Plume Lab’s Flow. Good, the technology overall is looking more promising.

3. DIY possibilities! This evening, I came across this person’s web page.—low-cost-approaches-to-air-pollution-measurement.html

*Possibly lower cost, involves time and a learning curve, both of which can pay off in interest and useful skills.

* Their site is modest, being under construction. This particular page has links to a range of approaches to building very sensitive monitors at low cost, that would not have been possible even a few years ago.

Who is inspired to get or try building one or two?

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