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Clean Air Sensors: Volunteers Wanted to Map Sheffield Air Pollution

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Real time data on air pollution in Sheffield could be accessed by anyone in future as part of a new project aimed at mapping the city's pollution problem.

Clean Air For Sheffield want to cover the city in a network of volunteer-built sensors that will feed into a European project called Luftdaten.

"People are aware that there's an air pollution problem in most European cities," project lead Graham Turnbull told Now Then. "But there's a recognition that air pollution can be a local problem as well. It could be somebody idling a car outside your house, or it could be someone burning wood."

Sheffield's first sensor at Turnbull's house in Nether Edge has now gone live.

Three further sensors will come online in the next few weeks. "About nine of us went down the pub and we built six more," said Turnbull, who is hoping to provide practical assistance to anybody wanting to install their own sensor.

"We're talking about doing a few more little pub workshops in the next few weeks, and we're also looking at doing a bigger meet up at the end of March where we're going to invite 50 or 60 people to build air sensors," he said.

Ultimately I want to be able to compare the quality of the air outside my house to the quality outside your house.

One advantage of Clean Air For Sheffield's proposed network is that it provides greater geographic accuracy than official data sources.

"There's already official air pollution sensors dotted around the world," he said. "In the UK, DEFRA has a network. In Sheffield we have three of them. They take the measurements from that and model what the pollution is likely to be everywhere else. The problem is it's not a very accurate model."

Although a network of DIY sensors are able to provide more comprehensive coverage, each individual sensor isn't as accurate as a more expensive one.

"It's a £30 device, and it's not going to be as accurate as a DEFRA monitoring station which costs £100,000," said Turnbull.

That is why the group are working with PhD student Rohit Chakraborty, a Grantham Scholar at the University of Sheffield, to use a smaller network university-owned sensors to improve the data from the network of volunteer sensors.

"The University are setting up a server to collect the data from their own air pollution monitors," Turnbull said. "I'm working with them to have the data from all the low-cost sensors go into that as well. We want to make it so that all the air pollution sensors in Sheffield go to the same place."

Turnbull is planning to raise money to donate sensors to people who can't afford to buy parts.

"I'd rather have 100 of these spread out completely across Sheffield than have 200 in one neighbourhood. I could find 200 people in Nether Edge who'd be interested but then we'd only know about Nether Edge," he said.

Sam Gregory

by Sam Gregory (he/him)

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