Filling Europe’s Data Gaps: An Environmental Necessity

Claudio Parrinello, Founder and CEO at PlanetWatch, explores…

Each year, exposure to harmful air pollutants contributes to the premature death of more than 300,000 Europeans, according to European Environmental Agency (EEA) data. This figure has been falling steadily since 2013, yet according to the EEA’s latest air quality assessment, 96% of Europe’s urban populations continue to be exposed to pollutants above the safe limit.

Now, a summer of blazing temperatures may have undone any progress made in recent years as uncontrollable wildfires have sent pollution levels soaring. For instace, France and Spain have recorded their highest levels of summer carbon emissions since 2003, according to the EU Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS). Worryingly, many across the continent are unaware that they are being exposed to life-threatening levels of air pollution.

The European Air Quality Index provides those living and working in Europe’s major cities and towns with insight into the pollutants they’re being exposed to. Yet, significant gaps remain, with sensors typically only placed in areas deemed to be at high risk of air pollution problems. This means that millions of Europeans that live in rural and less developed areas – such as those often most affected by wildfires – remain uninformed and potentially exposed to air quality below the required standard.

On the other hand, an urban example is Rome, one of Europe’s largest capitals, with an area of 1300 square kilometers, but only 13 governmental air quality monitoring devices. We need 100 times more sensors on the ground.

These data gaps are fuelling a public health crisis

Causing long-term health effects such as heart disease, lung cancer, and a range of respiratory diseases, researchers from the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago recently estimated that air pollution takes approximately 2.2 years off the global average life expectancy.

However, it doesn’t take a lifetime of exposure to suffer the consequences. In fact, 16% of asthma cases in children have been linked to combustion-related nitrogen dioxide by The Lancet Planetary Health.

If our drinking supply or food sources were causing chronic illness, we would desperately seek a solution. The response to air pollution should be no different. Yet, a lack of data continues to make it difficult for individuals, businesses, and governments to make informed decisions regarding how to proceed.

Improving Europe’s air quality data supply

With 99% of the global population breathing contaminated air, according to the World Health Organization, we must urgently and significantly scale the coverage of our air quality monitoring systems. Here, a community-based approach can deliver data at scale to improve the wellbeing of people in all areas – urban, deemed at-risk or otherwise.

At PlanetWatch, we’re collaborating with citizens, businesses and authorities that care about the long-term health of our people and planet to build a global network of outdoor air quality sensors. We incentivise users by rewarding them with our utility token, Planets, when their sensors send air quality data back to PlanetWatch and store our data in a blockchain to preserve its authenticity and provide transparency. With tens of thousands of sensors deployed already, we are taking great strides towards filling the significant data gaps that exist in the EEA’s network.

Now, we have launched the PlanetWatch API to provide this data to organisations -from governments to Digital Health, Insurance, Smart Building and companies from various sectors – to support them in developing problem-solving solutions. Users can retrieve data based on geographical locations and time frames to build localised products and services that will improve air quality throughout the continent.

Whether providing people with real-time access to air quality data for their location, guiding urban transport initiatives, or building ‘digital twins’ to pinpoint necessary interventions in particular areas before air pollution becomes a problem — there is so much more we can do to clean up our environment, but increasing air quality data capture, monitor and analysis will be imperative to realising these life-saving strategies.