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Daily air diet: measuring a mother’s exposure to air pollution

From cooking and cleaning to a trip to the beach, Dyson’s air quality backpack tracks air pollution exposure throughout the daily routine of typical mums.   

The quality of air we breathe is a critical concern, particularly for mums. The air quality backpack project is part of our sustained effort to enhance awareness about air quality issues and empower people to take control of their indoor air.

By re-working existing sensing technology used in our air purifiers, we’ve engineered a prototype air quality backpack that acts as a portable air sensing device, collecting air pollution data on the move. Equipped with on-board sensors, a battery pack and GPS, the portable technology aims to provide an insight into personal exposure to air pollution and how to avoid it.

 

Feeding data back to Dyson engineers, the team analyse the findings by pairing the air sensor and GPS data from the backpack with diary entries where she documents her daily activities. By understanding the events that cause air pollution in the first place, we’re better equipped to make recommendations on how people might be able to lower their exposure in the future.

  • The backpack

    Our air quality backpack was initially developed by our engineers for the Breathe London study with King's College London and the Greater London Authority. The study involved 258 children in five schools in London, and sought to understand exposure to two pollutants, fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2), on the school run. As a result of the study, 31 per cent of the children taking part said they would change the way they commute to and from school to reduce their exposure to air pollution.

     

  • Increase in pollution levels during routine activities

    The data findings showed an increase in pollution levels during routine activities such as cooking, cleaning and travelling by car. The data indicated that while overall exposure levels over the two-day period using the air quality backpack appear low, pollution events throughout the day caused pollution levels to spike into concentrations that register as ‘high’ on the Dyson purifier pollution scale.

     

    An evening BBQ in the garden showed high levels of pollutants PM2.5 and NO2, likely caused by the combustion process during cooking which can emit fine particulate matter. NO2, a pollutant often associated with vehicle emissions, was also detected whenthe family took a trip to the beach in the car while using the backpack.

    Meanwhile, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) were detected whilst doing activities in the house such as using cosmetic products, doing laundry and spraying pesticides outdoors. VOCs is a collective term for thousands of different chemicals, many of which are found in common household items or products. Interestingly, while Leah was cleaning, levels of PM2.5 registered at higher concentrations, likely caused by the disturbance of household dust.

    Technology advancements in portable air quality monitoring devices is increasing and using these is critical for translating the research findings into better everyday practice to reduce air pollution, both to understand our personal exposure and what we generate as individuals,” adds Professor Vardoulakis.

    “Education around the different types and source of air pollutants will help people adjust their behaviour – by taking actions such as avoiding busy highways, commuting to work differently, increasing ventilation when cooking, using more environmentally friendly cleaning products or using a purifier with a HEPA filter inside the home.”

     

    “Our engineers have developed intelligent sensors using knowledge derived from years of experience and research in air cleaning technology,” says Alex Knox, Vice President of Environmental Care at Dyson.

    Making the most of our portable air quality sensor technology, we recently used the  backpack to investigate the impact of the COVID-19 lockdown on air quality globally. Participants in cities across the world have been wearing the backpack during essential travel in this period and the data findings will be released in October.

    “Using our unique algorithm to process detailed reports of air pollution exposure, this technology allows us to monitor air quality indoors, outdoors and on the move. What’s more, it all fits within a backpack,” adds Knox.

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