Citizen Science Air Quality: Project Introduction & Survey

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Citizen Science Air Quality Project:  Air pollutants and healthier travel choices

Survey now live – available here!

Air quality is a national and global issue with significant costs upon the UK – estimated by the Government at £8.5-20bn per annum health impacts (Defra, 2010: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/69340/pb13378-air-pollution.pdf). This is twice the costs of physical inactivity and comparable to the cost of alcohol misuse to society (Environmental Audit Committee, 9th Report – Air Quality: a follow-up – Volume I, 14 November 2011). There is increasing national interest and recently Client Earth won a case against UK Government (http://www.clientearth.org/major-victory-health-uk-high-court-government-inaction-air-pollution/).

The whole of the city of Liverpool is declared an Air Quality Management Area for Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) by Liverpool City Council (see: http://uk-air.defra.gov.uk/aqma/details?aqma_id=229). Air pollution is a contributory factor towards respiratory illness and related conditions, and directly affects health. An estimation of 239 deaths in Liverpool in 2010 were attributed to illnesses associated with air pollution (Public Health England 2014 ‘Estimating local mortality burdens associated with particulate air pollution’).

Liverpool Friends of the Earth are launching a Citizen Science project to investigate air quality awareness and perceptions within Liverpool and to investigate the question:

Can transparency of air quality data through citizen science increase awareness and empower people to make healthier travel decisions through reducing their exposure to air pollutants?

The project has been kindly funded by the Liverpool Clinical Commissioning Group and is run by Michael King and Stella Shackel. The funding has enabled 4 portable sensors to be purchased. These sensors can measure the air pollutants: particulate matter, Carbon Monoxide and Nitrogen dioxide. Data from these sensors can be overlaid on Liverpool maps to show the pollution levels for the routes along which the sensors are carried. More information is at: http://liverpoolfoe.org.uk/air-quality-in-liverpool/.

Volunteers will be engaged in the data gathering and feedback processes to help understand how Citizen Science approaches can help individuals and community groups. The data generated could also be used in the future for other purposes, such as comparing air quality data with the presence of green infrastructure. Friends of the Earth also has a national air quality campaign: https://www.foe.co.uk/page/air-pollution-campaign-clean-air

This project is about investigating low-cost methods to empower citizens with information to help them understand air quality levels and decide for themselves how they might act. The air quality data collected will be made available on the Liverpool FoE website.

Please answer our online survey to assess air quality awareness and help to promote it by re-tweeting our tweets from our twitter @LiverpoolFoE. Please answer the survey if you can and contribute to our evidence base! Thank you!

Air Quality Citizen Science project – early testing of the PM sensors

Following on from previous posts describing the PM sensors that we are using, the next steps are about testing them before giving them out to volunteers.

This post will describe some of these tests and also give some insight into what data is generated and how it can be used.

Some simple trips with the sensors allow me to capture data and make sure they are working as expected. The data that is captured is stored on the phone (android smartphone) and can be later uploaded to the aircasting website or to any other source. The aircasting website is a community mapping development by HabitatMap and provides a form of crowd-sourced data. An example of this is shown below and can be found hereaircasting_map

Beyond this pooling of data in a community map like the aircasting website, it’s also possible to look at individual data streams. This was part of the testing process for our AirBeam sensors. The data from one trip with one of the sensors (unit 1 for reference) is shown in the diagram below:

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This shows a single trip in south Liverpool near Allerton Road. The individual data points are visible, with a simple colour coding according to the spread of the data i.e. green are lower values and red are higher values: this does not necessarily mean that red is unhealthy however, it’s just a higher reading.

The diagram below shows the same trip and data but zoomed it for one part. The reading for one data point is also shown. This reading was taken on 13 October 2016 and the PM reading was 13.12 micrograms per cubic meter.

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At this stage I will not go further into how this data can be used. The purpose of this post is simply to share some insight into the testing process. A goal of the project is to find out how this data can be useful to individuals and community groups – at this stage we just want to make sure the data is being generated and that it looks in line with expectations. The journey above supports the view that this sensor is working as expected.

More to follow on testing.

Air Quality sensors: first steps to set them up

A previous post announced the arrival of our first two #airquality sensors. These two sensors measure particulate matter (PM); we are still waiting on delivery of two more sensors, which will measure nitrogen dioxide.

Now we’ve got these sensors, the first steps in our project plan are about setting them up before they are ready for use by volunteer participants. We also need to do some proper testing, but more on that in another post.

Below is a picture of our two AirBeams to measure PM:

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For the technically-minded the AirBeam is based upon the Arduino Leonardo. In addition to the particulate matter sensor inside the case, there is also a sensor to measure temperature and relative humidity. The AirBeams are battery powered and charged using a USB cable. These AirBeam needs to be used with an Android smartphone and a specific “app” has been developed for their use – the “aircasting” app is found here.

The AirBeam connects to the Android smartphone using bluetooth technology. The Android smartphone is primarily needed to provide a GPS location for the data that is recorded by the sensors. Additionally the microphone of the phone can be used to record local noise levels – potentially providing some insights into local noise pollution levels, although this is not the immediate focus of our project.

The screenshot below shows the aircasting app and the readings from the sensor. So, at this point in time (readings are taken every few seconds) PM was 6 micrograms (one millionth of a gram) per cubic meter. At the same time, relative humidity was 51%, temperature 60F and the sound level was 81dB. The colour coding can be configured and is designed to give a quick idea about current levels.

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These readings update continuously and can be recorded on the smartphone for mapping or analysis. More on this in a later post.

Michael has been using this AirBeam for the last year or two and so is very familiar with its use. They are great devices, but of course have their limitations. One limitation is the need for an Android smartphone and so volunteers will need to have an appropriate phone for the sensor to work. This is a constraint, but we feel we can still learn a lot during the project.

More information to follow on the progress of our tests with these sensors and how the data can be used.

Why we should put a stop to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP)?

Communities are working together against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership agreement because we believe it would jeopardise food safety, allow for more privatisation of public services such as the NHS and allow corporations more rights and allow them to sue governments if profits were affected by decisions made for public benefit. All bar one of the UK political parties is against it.
Watch the video

STOP TTIP Day of Action April 18th
We would like to invite you along on Saturday 18th April between 11-1 to show support against TTIP. We will meet on Church Street where it meets Bold Street (Opposite Lloyds bank) and we will give out leaflets and help share information about reasons for signing the petition against TTIP.
Sign the Petition here
#A18DoA  #nottip
Global Justice Now Flier WDM-NoTTIP-flyer-0814

The Gary Mahoney Memorial Bike Ride – a reminder. Sunday 19 April 2015 at 11:00am

Gary’s colleagues at Sefton Council have arranged a memorial bike ride. Details are below. All are welcome we’re sure.


Sunday 19 April 2015 at 11:00am we will be holding a supervised bike ride to raise money for the British Heart Foundation. Starting at Southport Eco Centre and finishing at the Crosby Lakeside Adventure Centre.

This cycle ride is open to all levels of cyclists and will take approximately 3 hours, covering a distance of 18 miles along the Sefton Coastal path. All donations welcome to http://www.justgiving.com/Chris-Carlsen

For additional information and to register to take part in the bike ride please contact Chris Carlsen chris.carlsen@sefton.gov.uk 0151 934 4609

Poster is here: Gary_Mahoney_poster_-_charity_bike_ride_19.04.2015

North West Regional Gathering Update

For The Love Of It

Saturday 14th 2015 was a day full of love. Love for what really matters. Our planet’s resources and its peoples wellbeing.

The schedule, organised by Carla Doran and hosted by Manchester FoE, was jam packed with talks, workshops and actions covering all of the activity of the North West Friends of the Earth local groups.

First up, was Anna Watson speaking about the Run on Sun campaign. Anna shared the news of the school that won the Solar Schools competition and about how nationally we can all work more effectively by contacting our MPs and PPCs to ask for their support.

Taking inspiration from Manchester FoE’s list of constituencies and MP’s and PPCs so that at a glance we can see who does what in our area and what they stand for. Very useful for the run up to the election.

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Swiftly after the mornings workshops, we all went en masse to give Barclays Bank our love. And whilst we were there we decided to ask them to pull out of supporting fracking in Lancashire. Mr Frack Head got us some attention on the way down through the bussling city streets of Manchester. There must have been at least 50 standers who with their smart phones documented the action.

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After a relaxed shared pot-luck lunch, informally swapping notes about ways we can work together, we continued to share our ideas about pressing issues.

First on the list for me was a short group session to address what’s happening with TTIP. We read FoE’s briefing and heard about Stop TTIP Mcr group who have a google group you can join. Currently on Merseyside there are numerous groups taking the TTIP agenda forward – GJN and 38 degrees are the main two. A day of action will be planned for April 18th.

Following the short network sessions we went to our final workshop, which for me was a whistlestop tour of the wellbeing workshop model we hosted earlier in January. Richard Dyer, campaigner for Economics and Resource use , shared the format for prospective groups to take forward in their localities. So far the work has inspired conversations about an approach to engaging with people about environmental issues, themes we can focus on to plan change, and how it can help when engaging new members to campaigns.

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The day was topped off by a swift pint in the pub, where our buzzing brains were able consolidate some ideas for building stronger networks.

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So after an exhilarating day i’m ready to get stuck into some campaigning through March and looking forward to the annual Basecamp gathering in June.

What Makes You Happy?

In January, Liverpool FoE teamed up with local group Transition Towns Liverpool and National FoE’s Economics and Resource Use campaigner Richard Dyer, to deliver a workshop about wellbeing.

The workshop began with a discussion about defining what wellbeing means to us.

DSC_0192This was a useful way for us to explore what makes us happy, and helped organise thoughts and made connections between the people involved.

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The group consisted of diverse individuals from a wide net of community projects and organisations including Transition Towns LiverpoolLiverpool FoE, WEA, Liverpool Socialist Singers,Liverpool Community Renewables, What Goes On,  Make SpaceFarm Urban, This is Cirrus, Merseyside Permaculture GroupMerseyside Environmental Trust, TGL, Not Just Collective, Spirit LevelL8LS, & Liverpool Quakers.

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Together, we established themes on governance, environment, food, transport, green space and community/communications and voted on those which we felt most pressing and in need of action.

Some ideas for development

  • Deepen connections within grass roots wellbeing networks
  • Mapping exercise
  • Deliver workshops with community groups
  • Consolidate forums and networks for more joined up working
  • Outdoor play for adults

(Read the full blog about the event here)

As a follow on to this, Liverpool FoE local group member Steph Rooney is continuing to work along side Richard Dyer on developing the discussion around wellbeing at a local and national level.

At the Regional gathering on Saturday, a wellbeing taster session was delivered with members of several local groups including Pete from Chester FoE, Cat from Isle of Man FoE, Rachel and Andrew from Manchester FoE.

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Manchester FoE is the next local group who will deliver the wellbeing workshop on 21st March 10-1pm (details here)

To read about the regional gathering in a bit more detail see this blog entry here