Innovation Spotlight

This French Startup is Tracking Global Air Quality

FLOW - A PERSONAL AIR QUALITY TRACKER

Air pollution is a growing global health issue, one that accounts for millions of premature deaths every year; nearly 500,000 in Europe alone.[1] In urban areas that monitor air pollution, more than 80% of people are exposed to air quality levels that exceed the World Health Organization (WHO) limits[2], and as urban air quality declines, the risk of stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, and chronic and acute respiratory diseases increases.

This is the problem Paris-based company Plume Labs is trying to address. 

“The current state of air pollution in our cities is a shame, and the fact that for too many people the economic opportunities brought by global urbanization are in direct conflict with their health or that of their loved ones is a disgrace,” 

says Director of Communications, Tyler Knowlton. “That's why air pollution has to change — and building a movement of informed citizens, empowered by technology to know exactly what they breathe and support political change for clean air is the best line of defense against air pollution.”

With a vision of clean air for all, Plume offers a free mobile app, Plume Air Report, that uses advanced data sciences to forecast real-time air pollution levels around the world to help individuals improve their environmental health. You might forgo that afternoon outdoor run, for example, if you see pollution levels are particularly high. 

Their new product, Flow, is a personal air quality tracker that maps air pollution variations around you in real time, so you can actively avoid polluted areas by street location. It also collects the data and feeds it back into their data analytics system to help make their forecasts and maps even better.

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We talked to Knowlton to find out more about air quality and how Plume Labs and its products are working to support healthier communities worldwide.

Health and wellness have become prominent trends; Why do you think air quality has been mostly left out of the consumer focus?

In order for a connected health solution to effectively combat climate change, a twofold approach is necessary. Firstly, effective tools are needed to preserve natural resources such as clean air. Secondly, knowledge and data must be available to as wide a population as possible. Plume Labs is tackling both of these aspects head on, providing hardware and software solutions alongside a strong emphasis on diffusing actionable information and constructing communities.

The tools and information you’re providing can help individuals take action and avoid highly polluted areas, but how are they also providing a larger global impact?

We believe that better data can lead to better decisions. One of the main problems with how we collectively approach developing solutions to combat the air quality crisis is in the quality of current data — how it is collected and presented. Our new way of collecting, analyzing, and presenting air quality data will enable governments, NGO's, communities and individuals to make better lifestyle decisions, create better policies and build better programs in our fight against air pollution…Our global pollution monitoring and forecasting network provides access to air quality metrics for all through our app, and our API can be used as a tool for worldwide efforts to reduce both health and environmental impacts of air pollution, while strengthening global resilience to pollution-exacerbating extreme weather events.

What do you think people would be surprised to learn about air quality and pollution?

One of the powerful and surprising aspects of air quality tracking at the level we are working on is a more detailed understanding of how fast pollution moves through an urban landscape. But not only how dramatic the variation is over time, but how significant the differences in pollution levels can be from one street corner to the next. People exist in time and space and as we move through both, we can make small changes to routines that will ultimately help reduce our exposure to pollution — we just need the right data. We need air quality information that follows individuals as they trace their paths through their urban landscapes.

How would you recommend individuals help reduce pollution levels — both through personal actions and local governmental advocacy?

The best first step anyone can take, either to reduce their own air pollution exposure, or to take action in reducing air pollution overall, is to get informed on the nature of the crisis. Understanding what causes pollution, the different kinds of pollutants, how they behave, and the laws governing them, puts all of us in a better position to engage in debates, to work together in our communities, and to make personal choices that will make a difference in tackling this global crisis… We truly hope Flow helps consumers and citizens, but also governments and industries better address the towering crisis of air pollution – and starts paving the way for a cleaner, healthier urban future.

[1] https://www.newscientist.com/article/2150214-air-pollution-blamed-for-500000-early-deaths-in-europe-in-2014/
[2] http://www.who.int/phe/health_topics/outdoorair/databases/cities/en/

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