Air Pollution and Pollen Exposure in the United States – We lack the necessary exposure sensor infrastructure to inform vulnerable populations

Thursday, November 30, 2017 – I was pleased to participate yesterday in a one-day workshop presented by the National Science Foundation ASSIST Center hosted by the North Carolina State University ASSIST Center in support of the Department of Defense.  The workshop was entitled, Warfighter Wearables in 2020: Human Performance Monitoring on the Edge.  One of the three focus areas, and the one to which I gravitated towards was environmental exposure monitoring.

As I’ve developed DailyBreath and drawn on environmental data from sources like EPA’s AirNow for air quality, and pollen.com for pollen, I’ve learned that our measurement capabilities are currently not granular enough to provide the best patient situational awareness necessary to avoid asthma attacks.  It’s a work in progress.  In the meantime, we can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good, but we certainly need to support efforts to improve the availability of data for measured air quality and/or pollen by sensors that are distributed at a much more granular level.

Ironically, the military tends to lead the way in the miniaturization of technology that is essential for a soldier’s situational awareness relative to his health status.  In the case of the military, the need is for more serious environmental exposures; chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear.  But, never the less, the technical requirements for sensors is not unlike the need for wearable sensors that could measure air quality or even pollen exposure.

Wearable sensors provide the best source of relevant exposure data that permits an understanding of an individual’s susceptibility to a specific type of exposure.  This is truly personalized exposure health. Clean Air Carolina has used an AirBeam personal air quality sensor for accurate readings based on an individuals’ location.  Personal air quality sensors like this (even smaller in size) are beginning to emerge, you may have seen them on Kickstarter.

In North Carolina, there are 23 air quality monitoring stations feeding air quality measurement data into EPA AirNow’s data feed.  However, Clean Air Carolina’s AirKeepers Program is targeting an air quality monitoring station in every county and based on the receptivity by citizen scientists, they’ll end up with several in each county creating a much more accurate reading of air quality exposure for those who are vulnerable.

In North Carolina, we can see a model for developing a network of exposure sensors. Mobile apps for notifying patients of exposure risks must be able to connect to the closest available source of data.  Currently, for DailyBreath, that source of data is EPA’s AirNow. But, as programs like AirKeepers, and devices like AirBeam emerge, we’ll have an opportunity to connect to the closest available air quality measurement, so it really reflects the conditions closest to the user of DailyBreath.

Authored by Eric Klos, CEO, HEALTHeWeather, and innovator of DailyBreath, a ‘Waze-like’ service for Asthma, helping others avoid asthma attacks.

If you suffer from allergies or asthma, or are a caregiver of one who does, please TEXT ‘dbnow’ to 41411 to download DailyBreath from the Apple iTunes App store. If you are an Android user, sign up here to receive the Android version when it becomes available in the future.