January 22, 2013, 2:37 PM — "Air pollution is a problem for all of us. The average adult breathes over 3,000 gallons of air every day. ... Many air pollutants, such as those that form urban smog and toxic compounds, remain in the environment for long periods of time and are carried by the winds hundreds of miles from their origin. Millions of people live in areas where urban smog, very small particles, and toxic pollutants pose serious health concerns. ... Long-term exposure to air pollution can cause cancer and long-term damage to the immune, neurological, reproductive, and respiratory systems."
-- US Environmental Protections Agency "Air and Radiation: Basic Information"
Air quality matters. According to the World Health Organization, urban outdoor air pollution "is responsible for 1.3 million deaths per year worldwide and indoor air pollution is estimated to cause approximately 2 million premature deaths, mostly in developing countries. Almost half of these deaths are due to pneumonia in children under 5 years of age."
While the U.S. government has an extensive network of devices monitoring our air quality, this country is so large that current monitoring only provides information about macro-scale conditions.
For example, I live in Ventura County, Calif., which has a total area of 2,208 square miles and is home to more than 823,000 people. It has hills and mountains, valleys, lakes and ocean front, and to monitor air quality there are just seven, count 'em, seven stations.
While government efforts to monitor and legislate air quality standards are impressive given the scale of the task, detailed data on the majority of local microclimates is mostly unknown (except if you live right next to one of the monitoring stations).
So, have you ever wondered how safe the air is in your local environment?
Last year I backed a Kickstarter Project that aimed to make air quality monitoring accurate and low cost. The project, the Air Quality Egg, produced by Wicked Device, is interesting for a number of reasons: First, it was a hugely popular concept, raising a total of $144,592 from 927 people on a goal of just $39,000!
Second, the project fits in with the "Internet of Things" concept, with all station data being uploaded to the 'Net and displayed on a web-based dashboard that we'll come back to in a minute.