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Air sensors are part of a new generation of lower cost portable monitors available to the public for measuring the quality of the air you breathe. These sensors typically cost between $100 and $2500. While that may not seem inexpensive, they are a fraction of the cost of our regulatory instruments.
These air sensors can estimate a variety of pollutants including: dust, fine particulate matter, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, ozone, nitrogen oxide, and many others.
You’ll notice that we said “estimate” above. That’s because along with being lower cost, air sensors are lower quality when compared to our regulatory instruments. The monitors that report to our website are built and operated according to rigorous air monitoring regulations determined by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and they provide high-quality data.
Air sensors can be used to help answer questions about air quality such as: How does the air quality during my commute compare to my air quality at home?; Is a particular industrial source near my house causing worse air quality?; Is air quality in my neighborhood better during the summer or winter?
South Coast’s Sensor Performance Evaluation Center (AQ-SPEC) reviews turnkey products and the World Air Quality Index project reviews raw sensors if you’re looking for a DIY solution. AQ-SPEC operates an evaluation program where they compare air sensors to regulatory monitors both in a laboratory test chamber and in the field on a long term basis. This is the most comprehensive air sensor testing program that we know of and how we select sensors for our own evaluation.
It’s not always clear what your air sensors readings mean, especially if you’re trying to compare them to the air quality data found on our website. Air sensors give readings every minute, or even instantaneously, and our regulatory monitoring is reported hourly or daily. We report at these longer time scales because that is the type of health based data we have. This is what the Air Quality Index (AQI) is based on. We don’t currently have an equivalent for air sensors, but EPA is working on that.
EPA has launched the Sensor Scale Pilot Project to test a new tool for making instantaneous outdoor air quality data useful for the public. The new “sensor scale” is designed to be used with air quality sensors that provide data in short time increments–often as little as one minute. EPA developed the scale to help people understand the one-minute data the stations provide and how to use those data as an additional tool for planning outdoor activities. Check out EPA’s Air Sensor Toolbox for more info.
The easiest and most reliable way is to compare your air sensor to your nearest regulatory monitoring site. If your data isn’t matching up there could be a number of reasons why including: your air sensor is not working properly or isn’t in a good location for sampling.
We are currently working on a way for citizen scientists to upload their data to our website for further evaluation. Until then, contact either Erik Saganic or Adam Petrusky to see if we can use your data.
We have a limited library of air sensors for loan to teachers and other non-profit organizations. These include Dylos and AirBeam particle counters, and Cairpol gas sensors for CO. If you have a specific project in mind, contact Adam Petrusky for more information and availablilty.