A perspective for Air Quality and Vaisala
That's me in Beijing. Not very approachable, huh?
I don't usually try to look like Bane from Batman, but there was a reason at the time. AQ-index was particularly bad that day. If I remember right, it was over 300 (of Chinese scale), and I wanted to try this "mask", that was supposed to be better than those you can find at grocery stores. Although, my face probably ended up to many Chinese' picture collection. In the end, it was better, but I did come to obvious decision that it's not worth to drag it with me all the time.
Little bit background for this: I spent last autumn semester in Shanghai, and got used to follow the air quality index more intensive than weather forecast, what is a weird way for us Finnish. For me, it was surprising how much it affects millions of people. Actually, maybe the thing that I missed most back in Finland was a touch to pure nature. Sounds like a cliché, but I wasn't only one.
At the time, I didn't have any idea that I would end up being part of the AQ-team here in Helsinki.
How can you minimize mask on –time?
Probably most of the people doesn't want to wear pollution masks like I did (or like that, more usual), and there should be alternatives. One way to tackle the problem is to control your exposure to pollution. Luckily people have realized potential that comes with the problem. If you aren't familiar with the plot, Vaisala is building devices for supplementary network of AQ-monitors to make measurements more local and the network more comprehensive. It's also answering for the problem, that reference stations are very expensive to buy and maintain at larger scale.
Nowadays, almost everyone have their smartphones, and this gives interface for ordinary citizens. One possible situation that I can imagine, could be that people check application using data from our devices. Based on the information at hand, you can do decisions almost real-time to minimize exposure to pollution. Of course, that is not as good as clean air, but still efficient.
My Giant Leap -project is with technology behind our AQT420 device and more specifically with its LPC, which stands for Laser Particle Counter. LPC is used to monitor PM10 and PM2.5 particulate matter, those tiny particles that creep their way into our lungs and even blood circulation. Generally, pollution measurements have been divided to two categories, gases and particulate matter.
My background was more on biosciences and I didn't recognize air quality as my specialty, so I was surprised when I got the position, but it's nice to see how Vaisala gives opportunities to learn new. I can only say, that my learning curve has been very steep, indeed ;) and damn interesting too.
Overall, there are a lot at stake and lots to do
Atte wrote a blog post (which was pretty good!) about indoor AQ. I would like to point out, that even though you would spent only 10% of your time outside it's of importance. Danish researcher published just recently an unfolding review about the effects of poor AQ. Usually you count only how many deaths pollution has caused. This researcher did found out that with premature death from pollution, people usually lose 9.2-11.6 years with every 10 µg of PM2.5 increase in m^3 in chronic exposure to pollution.
My understanding is that most of the people in countries with AQ problems live in conditions without adequate filtering of outside air. So basically you are living in the smog outside and inside. For example, I can tell a peculiar personal experience. In China, there is a widespread old belief (please correct if I'm wrong) that you should open windows to truly get fresh air. So even though there is 10 times more pollution in air than what is recommended, windows in work places and schools are often open to get "fresh" air.
On the other hand, more local AQ-index would probably shake us even more to protect ourselves better. And this is a second aspect of more comprehensive pollution monitoring system: to wake people even more on realities considering what do we breath and what kind of environment should we deserve. However, it's positive that pollution is in the limelight, and new approaches to tackle it are rising all the time.