May 25 2016
The air’s going to be bad in Pittsburgh today — Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups — so don’t take baby out for a stroll this afternoon. How can we know exactly where it’s safe to breathe? Birds and bicycles test the air.
Birds: London, England, March 2016:
Pigeons have been used for breeding, racing and message-carrying. This spring in London the Pigeon Air Patrol tested the air — quite literally.
In March three members of a flock of racing pigeons were outfitted with air quality monitors and GPS. Then the flock was released from various points in the city to record — and tweet — air quality data on their way. People could see what they were breathing in real time.
This is of interest in London because they have a history of bad air with darkness at noon and killer smog (1952). But the air’s OK now, right? Well, that’s not what the pigeons found.
Typical air monitors sample fixed locations but the pigeons flew through hotspots of bad air. Who knew that a particular street corner was a bad place to breathe? The pigeons did.
Check the Plume Labs website to see what’s happening in the air in London and around the world right now. (Scroll down to see the map.) If you have breathing problems there are quite a few places you should never visit.
Bicycles: Pittsburgh, PA, ongoing:
Two thirds of the year Pittsburgh’s air quality is in the “moderately polluted” range which doesn’t sound like much but constitutes a health risk in the long term. Today our air will be worse –> Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups.
The regional map doesn’t tell the whole story. Some places have better air than others so the Group Against Smog and Pollution enlisted bicycles to help. In this ongoing project, volunteers carry monitors on their bicycles and collect air quality data as they ride. GASP then maps the data on a street by street basis.
When it comes to breathing, we need all the help we can get.
p.s. Do you ride a bike in Pittsburgh? Do you want to help map air quality? Click here.