Posted July 14th, 2015 by Marshall Beck

U of T researchers launch interactive air pollution map for Pan Am Games

  • AirSensors.ca screenshot

    AirSensors.ca features an interactive map that reports on air quality near venues being used for the Pan Am and Parapan Am Games.

A group of researchers from the University of Toronto and the Allergy, Genes and Environment (AllerGen) Network have launched an interactive map that tracks air pollution across Toronto for the Pan Am Games.

The tool uses data from new AirSENCE devices, which are a type of inexpensive air quality monitoring system that the U of T team developed. Placed around Pan Am sites, they measure the Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) and estimated concentrations of a number of air pollutants.

The technology was created by U of T chemical engineering professor Greg Evans (ChemE) and Jeffrey Brook, a senior research scientist with Environment Canada and an adjunct professor in the U of T Dalla Lana School of Public Health. The project is led by U of T PhD student Natalia Mykhaylova (ChemE).

“Click on a location to see the air quality health index and the estimated concentrations of key air pollutants over the previous three days,” says Evans. “Clicking on multiple sites allows you to compare them.”

The tool also allows users to compare AirSENCE data with air quality readings from both the Southern Ontario Centre for Atmospheric Aerosol Research (SOCAAR), an interdisciplinary centre for studying air quality that Evans directs, and the Ontario Ministry of Environment and Climate Change.

Evans’ recent research shows that traffic emissions may pollute one in three Canadian homes. Read more.

While Toronto’s air quality is better than many global cities that have hosted major sporting events, poor air quality days do occur. The AirSensors website will help residents and visitors — especially those with allergies, asthma or other respiratory conditions — to plan the timing and location of their activities. Athletes can use the tool to be alerted to poor air quality during their event or they may choose to adjust their pre-event training based on air quality.

“Each AirSENCE device uses an array of 14 sensors to estimate concentrations of five air pollutants: nitrogen oxides, ozone, particulate matter, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide,” explains Evans. “This allows people to monitor air pollution in their local environment in real time.”

This new technology will help Canadians long after the Pan Am and Parapan Am Games have concluded, according to Evans.

“Following the Games, we will recalibrate and upgrade the AirSENCE devices, and deploy them at a variety of locations,” he says. “In 2016, we will launch the devices in Beijing. Ultimately, AirSENCE will enable users worldwide to make better-informed choices to manage their exposures to outdoor or indoor pollutants, reducing both the risk of exacerbations of pre-existing health conditions, like asthma, and of development of chronic disease through long-term exposure.”