Clean air is vital for our health, the environment, and even the economy. But what exactly constitutes good air quality? Read on to find out.

What is air quality?

The air we breathe is made up of 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, and other gases such as hydrogen and carbon dioxide. Air quality is determined by the concentration of foreign substances in the atmosphere, which come from sources like transport vehicles, agriculture, residential cooking and heating, and factories. Thus, the lower the concentration of pollutants in the air we breathe, the better the air quality. Key pollutants include ammonia (NH3), carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen oxides (NOx), ground-level ozone (O3), particulate matter (PM), sulphur dioxide (SO2), and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Why is air quality important?

According to the World Health Organization, urban air pollution is the greatest environmental risk to health, killing 7 million worldwide every year. It is the second-leading cause of strokes, lung cancers, heart diseases, and chronic and acute respiratory diseases in the world, costing the global economy more than $5 trillion annually. 

Air pollution is also responsible for climate change. Carbon dioxide (CO2), which comes from the extraction and burning of fossil fuels, is responsible for 64% of man-made global warming. Other contributors are compounds such as black carbon (BC), a component of particulate matter, methane (CH4), and ground-level ozone (O3). 

Last but not least, poor air quality has severe economic consequences as well. According to the World Bank, welfare losses from premature deaths as a result of air pollution was more than US$5 trillion in 2013. This includes $225 billion in lost labour income. And, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), healthcare costs incurred from air pollution were US$21 billion in 2015, and are expected to rise to an annual US$176 billion by 2060.

How is air quality determined?

Naturally, air quality sensors are used to measure the level of pollutants in the atmosphere. What is important, however, is the quality of the data. Factors such as temperature, humidity and location must be taken into account to ensure accuracy, while laboratory testing and comparative trend analyses are needed for reliability. 

The information gathered from the sensors can then be presented as a descriptive rating scale called an air quality index (AQI). These were created to allow people of all ages to find out just how polluted the air they breathe is by outlining the risks associated with each rating based on extensive medical research. 

Technology like the air sensors and the cloud analytics platform developed by Breeze Technologies can help combat air pollution by monitoring key pollutant levels and by analyzing and reporting the data. Doing so allows cities and national governments to develop policies and investments for cleaner transport, energy-efficient industries and optimized urban development activities. Consistent measuring creates benchmarks to compare and judge the effectiveness of implemented policies, thus allowing for progress in improving air quality. All of this leads to benefits for health, the environment, the economy, and ultimately, a better future.