Record-breaking fires wreaked havoc in the western United States, also releasing large amounts of smoke and ash into the atmosphere, affecting the health of the region.
To find out where and when it is safe to go out again, residents come to the Air Quality app and web sites such as AirNow, PurpleAir and IQAir. They are also snapping up air purifiers to breathe their homes and offices, as well as air quality sensors made by these and other groups to monitor pollution levels on their own properties.
On September 9, 2020, as the skies above Oakland and San Francisco changed from smoke to a terrifying dark orange color, nearly 600,000 people visited the Purpleair Air Quality Map in a single day, according to Google Analytics data from the company Shared with CNBC. Most of those visitors were from California. Users’ site visits to Oregon and Washington were taking place on 9th and 10th, with Oregon set to evacuate about 500,000 people from harm’s way.
Adair Dybwad, CEO of Purpair, told CNBC, “We are delighted to be able to measure people and understand where the smoke is, how far it is traveling and how they can get clean air Where can you go. But it is a very strange feeling when your business. Does well in the midst of such tragedies. “
Purpleair sold 1,000 sensors in recent weeks
Founded in 2015, Purpair creates its own map with data that flows from sensors that the company produces at its Draper, Utah, headquarters, priced between $ 199 to $ 279.
The company said the company employs just 12 full-time employees, but wants to double this season, and has about 9,000 sensors currently installed worldwide, up from about 6,000 this time last year. Nearly 1,000 sensors were sold in the last few weeks, as an electrical storm in California extinguished the fire.
The map is free and has no advertisements, and provides a simple color-coded key that shows how bad the wind is. Green dot means that it is mostly clean. Orange means that sensitive groups will be affected after 24 hours, while red means that everyone can be affected. The worst color, a dark purple-maroon, warns “health warnings of emergency situations if exposed for more than 24 hours. The entire population is more likely to be affected.” Most of the west coast is covered in purple-maroon dots, like September 11, on the worst days of the 2020 fire season.
Vehicles are seen along Interstate 80 as flames from the LNU Lighting Complex fire are seen on the outskirts of Vequille, California, USA on August 19, 2020.
Stephen Lam | Reuters
Readings on the PurpleAir map may appear higher than measurements at the AirNow site managed by federal agencies including the US Environmental Protection Agency and NASA.
Dybwad explained why: “Our sensors, essentially, glow a laser beam and when particles float or get sucked through that beam of light, they count and assess the reflections. More Greater than, and usually reflects more particles. Density may be slightly divergent, depending on sensor measurements, for example, wood smoke versus gravel dust. ”
The density of wood smoke particles is 1.5 grams per cubic centimeter, and the density of gravel dust particles is usually 2.8 grams per cubic centimeter.
For now, Purpose aims to show people that the intensity of air pollution is generally worsening or improving every few minutes, and whether the air is at risk or healthy.
“We don’t need to split hair all the time – whether it’s purple or very purple, we know the intensity of pollution is bad,” Diabbad said. “Other companies try to hide their data, so you have to log in to see it. Our philosophy is openness.”
Other air quality companies are working on more accurate measurement of the particles we breathe.
Eclima, a startup funded by the Schmidt Family Foundation, Emerson Collective and other environmental-related investors, is working on sensors that can measure particles and greenhouse gases, such as ozone, to generate hyperlocal air quality data Which are purchased and used by regulators and scientists. , Mainly.
The startup’s CEO and founder, Davida Herzl, said, their systems work with a mix of technologies, including laser-based and electrochemical sensors and machine learning software combined into a one-of-a-kind lab in a box. The systems are portable enough to get behind the passenger vehicle, which can move around any city, which needs to be closely monitored in the face of a new environmental hazard. They can also read how the air quality varies from one end of the city to the other.
The start-up is selling its data and systems to regulatory agencies such as the Bay Area Air Quality Management District in California. They use Aclima data for emissions reduction plans, and enforcement against pollutants. Herzl said the company is monitoring air quality in an area that covers about 10 million residents, mostly in California with some in New York. She hopes to double that coverage over the next six months.
Swiss air quality company IQAir, which also operates the AirVisual app, sees spikes in website visits and sales of air filtration systems whenever a fire erupts in the western states or a significant wild event like the Australian wildfire in 2019 The tribe, which burned 72,000 square miles of land, killed 34 people, and drove billions of animals out of their habitat.
For example, from 17 August to 10 September, the CNBC company received more than 1 million new visitors to its air quality map, said IQAir’s CEO for North America, Glory Dolphin Hams, as the state of California caught fire, A record amount of one acre was burnt. . Over the same period, quality new maps on IQAir.com for the cities of Oregon and Washington increased by over 18,000% and 38,000%, respectively.
The company has more than 80,000 sensors worldwide, which today measure worldwide air quality, with the majority in North America, and some stationed in US embassies worldwide.
Glory Dolphin Hams (CEO) IQAir North America, Inc.
IQ Air Inc.
While it is clear that people should avoid going outside when the sky turns dark and orange with smoke, sky quality problems and associated health risks persist even when the sky appears normal, Hames noted .
“We often take air quality for everyone. You will see a blue sky and assume that you can breathe clean air. Tragic events like wildfire can lead to discussion about air quality. But we make air quality Want. Visible and a topic of discussion throughout the year, “she said.
Because the company sells air purification systems, not just sensors, some of its focus has shifted to 2020 to measure air quality and improve ventilation in more schools, hospitals and industrial settings.
According to environmental journalist Amy Westerwell, creator of the climate change podcast Drilled, the rise of free, online air quality maps indicates a massive shift in consumer awareness about air pollution. Westerwell says that coal, manufacturing and other industries lobbied desperately to treat air emissions data as a trade secret for the government. But given sophisticated enough sensors, and data coming from consumers and open source groups, the industry will not be able to hide its impact on the air we breathe forever.
Westerwell said, “I think this ‘airpocalypse’ can end environmental disinfection.” “When there is a fire in the sky, you cannot get out of it. No one can go out of the house.”
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